INDIANAPOLIS — Labor peace in the NFL has seemingly come down to a class struggle.
Consider some of the players who in various forms have expressed opposition to or have been described as against the proposed 10-year collective bargaining agreement that is headed to a vote.
Players you’ve probably heard of: Russell Wilson. Richard Sherman. Aaron Rodgers. J.J. Watt. Maurkice Pouncey.
If this deal hinged on star power, it might crumble on a goal-line stand.
Pouncey, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Pro Bowl center, put it this way in a passionate video posted on social media Wednesday, hours after the NFL Players Association’s board of player reps voted 17-14 to send the proposal along for a vote: “If any player, on any one of our teams, if y’all are hurting for rent money or anything while we’re going through this lockout, call us. Man, we’ve got way more money than what they had back in the days. We ain’t got to worry about that. All the vets on each team, stand the (expletive) up. Stand up! Show these guys that we care about 'em.”
Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks star with the league’s highest average salary at $35 million per year, urged in a tweet that his fellow players should not rush into a deal. Watt, the three-time defensive player of the year for the Houston Texans, weighed in recently with a “hard no” declaration. Sherman, more active than most as a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, has been adamantly opposed to the 17-game schedule that owners see as a bedrock (and revenue-driver) for a new deal.
What we know: Latest on collective bargaining agreement
My thoughts. # pic.twitter.com/VOmCSNiI4f
Health and Wellness of our men is always the most important aspect. There is no price you can put on that and that is why I Voted No. I respect the Men that have been part of this discussion and stood up for their locker rooms. https://t.co/mL0Yj3E6d9
Yet for all the respect and leadership possessed by some of the NFL’s best-known and highest-paid players, this matter could essentially swing with the collective weight of the have-nots.
For ratification, the vote needs a simple majority of participants – and if more than half of the rank-and-file decide to approve, it should be a done deal.
And for every Wilson, Sherman and Watt, there are approximately 30 guys on each NFL roster earning minimum salaries, praying they’ll stay in the league for the four years needed to be fully vested for the improved benefits of a new CBA.
That’s why this deal could go through. There is sometimes strength in numbers. Even though the proposed deal would put billions of dollars into the pockets of players, with their percentage of overall revenues increasing to as much as 48.5% from 47%, the most tangible, immediate difference would be felt by the bottom-of-the-roster players who stand to gain at least a $90,000-per-year bump to their base salaries, on top of the increase in the performance-based pay provisions that can often add six more figures.
That has to be so enticing to any player who isn’t sure he’ll be around for a second or third contract.
You can believe that NFL owners – eager to get this deal done now, ahead of the final season of the 2011 pact, to help facilitate new broadcast deals – are banking on the have-nots to seal the deal.
How ironic. Owners depend on the star players to win championships and fuel the appeal of the nation’s most popular sports league. Now they’re seemingly more dependent on the lower tier of players to open the floodgates to bigger NFL windfalls. Or is it divide and conquer?
That haves vs. have-nots scenario drew a lot of criticism after the pact was done in 2011. While the new deal may try to address that to some extent, the gulf is probably growing with every big-money quarterback contract who comes down the pike.
Outgoing NFLPA president Eric Winston insists that this proposed labor deal isn't being rushed, even though he’s weeks away from finishing his term.
Regardless, there’s hardly a consensus from the players' side while NFL owners wait as a mostly united front. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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