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Top 10 list of Players and People Who Need a New CBA Signed IMMEDIATELY

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The potential for an NFL lockout affects players around the league differently. The list below includes more well known players, but there are definitely not the only ones who are worried or should worry about the agreement. In fact, they are but a representation of the many different ways in which the CBA can affect those in different places in their NFL careers and personal lives.

The list is in no particular order.

10. NNamdi Asomugha is a case of incentivizing gone wrong. Because he didn’t hit some key targets, his contract with the Oakland Raiders was voided. I’m not a big fan of certain incentives mainly because they are at the whim of the both the coaches on the player’s team and also the coaches on the other side. Asomugha was never likely to make the incentives in his contract anyway, so this was all an exercise in futility.

Whatever happens, Asomugha will be okay. He is a stand out player that could be a real asset to both the league and his next team, and offensive coordinators seem aware of this because he was only thrown to 33 times during the season. However, until a new CBA is signed, both the Raiders and Asomugha are in a holding period.

9. New York Jets Corner Back Antonio Cromartie can barely hide his anxiety about the potential lockout. Depending on who you ask, Cromartie has between 7 and 9 children by 7 or 8 different women and had to be advanced his first check from the Jets (after being traded from San Diego) in order to stay out of jail for non payment of child support.

Cromartie made headlines a week and half ago when he referred to both NFL leadership and NFLPA leadership as assholes and basically implied that both sides were playing games and not serious about negotiating a new agreement. Other players, like Cardinals linebacker Darnell Dockett and Ravens veteran Linebacker Ray Lewis spoke out saying that Cromartie didn’t speak for all the players.

Last Thursday, Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck committed a classic “tweet and delete” saying that Cromartie probably doesn’t know what CBA stands for. Cromartie responded by threatening to bash Hassleback’s face in to which Hasselback responded “I guess DBs and QBs have a hard time getting along some times.”

The stress of the potential lockout is clearly getting to Cromartie. He needs to know that he will be playing both in the short and long term. Though the Jets have expressed a desire to keep Cromartie, the team has some serious decisions to make with at least two well-compensated veterans due raises. Cromartie blew some critical plays during the end of the regular season and post season after starting off strong in the beginning of the season. I’m sure he’d like to have some certainty ASAP.

8. The lockout can’t weigh heavier on anyone’s mind than NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith. With talk of pregnant players’ wives asking to be induced before the CBA ends (and presumably health insurance for NFL players and families) and not to mention all the players making the league minimum or suffering from injuries that need continued attention, I can’t imagine anyone wanting a CBA to be signed more than Smith.

Smith has been an effective advocate for the players. He’s made it his business to meet with other powerful union leaders (inside and outside of sports), he’s lobbied quietly on the players’ behalf on Capitol Hill, and just shown a genuine passion for ensuring the NFL doesn’t regress in its treatment of players. Not only did Smith beat out long time NFLPA President former Eagles CB Troy Vincent, he also beat out the NFL’s  lawyer David Cornwell for the position. If the NFL and NFLPA can’t come to an agreement soon, fans and many players will be looking for someone to shoulder the blame and Smith will be a primary target regardless of how necessary his efforts are.

Thus far, the players have overall publicly supported Smith. However, we’re still a month out from the CBA’s expiration and the tide could always change.

7. It’s pretty hard to imagine a National Football League that doesn’t feature Baltimore Ravens ILB Ray Lewis. Lewis has been evasive when it comes to discussing retirement though the mercurial superstar will be 36 come this May. My guess is that he’d like to play one more year—his mind is probably telling him yes while his body is telling him no.  He remained fairly healthy through this season but at his age all the years of playing have to be catching up.

Since it’s likely that the NFL will allow player health insurance to expire the day of the lockout, it may make Lewis’exit from the league more complicated. For example, Lewis may want to retire under the old agreement just in case the owners get their wish to shorten the length of the time in which players are covered with health insurance upon retirement (whether the new agreement is signed March 4 2011 or March 4 2012). Also, since the league is hoping to add 2 more regular season games, Lewis may want to end his career now rather than endure a season with additional physical demands tacked on.

6. The closer WR Plaxico Burress comes to being released from prison the hotter the speculation becomes about where he might land. His agent, power broker Drew Rosenhaus, has said unequivocally that Burress will play in the league again.

Here’s the problem, Burress turned himself in to police in December 2008 and was suspended without pay for the rest of the 2008/2009 season. It is now January 2011, a full 2 years since he’s played in the NFL. If there’s a lockout, assuming it lasts one year or season that would make Burress almost 3 years removed from the league and 35 years old. Rumor has it Burress spent upwards of a million dollars in legal fees fighting his case and had to sell property including cars. The latest news is that his home in Florida is being foreclosed.

Before incarceration, Burress was an on and off problem-child and another year out of the league would make a successful return difficult, but Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick has shown that redemptive returns are possible mentally and physically and might inspire coaches to give Burress another try.  Many of Burress’ former teammates have made it clear that they would like to see Burress return to the Giants. Giants management have said they will contact him at the appropriate time. And Ravens Coach John Harbaugh has said he’s consider Burress as well. took a look at Burress’ return prospects with other teams.

In a nutshell, not only does Burress need to play really soon because his physical clock is ticking, he needs to replenish the money he’s lost and  reset his family’s foundation.

5. Poor poor Washington Redskins QB Donovan McNabb has got to want a CBA signed pronto. McNabb’s sense of urgency isn’t really about money-he’s made enough to relax for the rest of his life. By all accounts he seems responsible so I doubt he’s hurting financially. But I definitely think McNabb wants to prove himself and doesn’t want to end his career with the season he had in Washington.

To clarify, given the offensive line, coaching issues, and the health of the Skins receiving core, McNabb didn’t have an especially bad year. Before being unceremoniously benched, he was on pace to pass for 4K yards. And in 2009 he had his second best passer rating of his career so I doubt his skills fell off that much between 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately, McNabb was butchered in the press by the Skins, and that’s no way to end the kind of career McNabb has had.  Realistically, barring a lockout McNabb probably has about 2 years left in the league, MAYBE three if he lands on a team with an epically talented offensive line.

The biggest appeal to signing a QB like McNabb –and it’s a shame the Redskins didn’t see this—is that he buys you a few years not only when it comes to winning but also when it comes to training a younger QB. If McNabb lands in Minnesota or Arizona as I suspect, they would be wise to draft a young QB and let him learn behind McNabb. With QBs dropping like flies throughout the season (50 different QBs started in the regular season, 72 different QBs took at least one snap) the league is in need of depth at that position and having successful veterans teach the youngsters is one way to get it. And let’s be honest, do we really want to see another playoff game in which Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie have to be dragged out?

4. Count me among the people who will never ever ever understand the career of Indianapolis Colts FS Demond Bob Sanders. In 7 years in the league, this guy has only played 14 games twice. The last 3 seasons he played a total of 9 games. Perenially injured and unbelievably talented, Sanders has bought more time in the league than any unhealthy player I can think of. He and Buffalo Bills OLB Shawne Merriman have the magic touch when it comes to this. But Sanders is quickly aging and next year may be the last season for him to make something out of what should have been a very illustrious career.

Besides, he gets injured just leaving the house. He definitely needs the health insurance the league may cancel on March 4.

3. Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick has a lot going on. And by going on, I mean, he owes a lot of people money. Vick’s creditors and debtors are watching his every move. That’s why I still can’t figure out why he not only gave his fiancée a Porsche for her birthday, but flaunted it in front of the press and everyone else. Now that he has his first paid endorsement since being released from prison, debtors will be looking to collect their money in accordance with the agreement Vick and they have made with the courts.

Vick began the season as a backup and ended it as a starter going to the Pro Bowl. Vick’s salary was $5,250,000 (overpaid by backup standards but underpaid by playoff contender and Pro Bowl player standards), but most of that didn’t go to him and his family. If Vick is able to play a 3 or 4 more years and gets a good contract from the Philadelphia Eagles (a feat not many have accomplished) he may be able to right his financials and completely pay off his debt. If not, he will be quickly transferred from the dog house to the poor house. Yes I agree that’s a bad joke but I couldn’t resist.

2. Denver Broncos turned Cleveland Brown RB Peyton Hillis was all but forgotten before being rediscovered in 2010. Hillis made $550,000 last year and barely surpassed the league minimum the year before. He’s a free agent in 2012. I’m sure he’d like to have another good season right away and make the case for a serious payout as soon as possible.  There are quite a few players who are in similar positions to Hillis-Matt Forte to name one and to a degree Adrian Peterson, whose salary is slated to go up in 2011 but was hovering under $400k in 2010.

1. Even though the bulk of the power belongs to the owners and The NFL, their monopoly may be wearing thin. Obviously the average fan doesn’t really care about the players. Most people think all professional athletes are spoiled and overpaid and they want to see games at all costs. Making sure players are treated equitably isn’t on most fans’ priority lists. Besides, the players are the ones fans see every Sunday, follow on twitter, and read about in the tabloids. The owners and the NFL Commissioner are cloaked in secrecy including their financials which, save for the publicly owned Packers, are a mystery even to NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith.

As we inch closer to the lockout, I think the NFLPA is doing a great job of pointing out some of the blatant issues with the owners’ arguments. I mean, does anyone believe that the owners are footing the bulk of the bills for stadiums? At some point fans have to wake up to the fact that they are not only overpaying for tickets to games, parking, and concessions, they’re also subsidizing these stadiums with tax payer dollars often at the expensive of local economies. Not only does the NFL need a new business model for its dealing with the players, its expectations of the fans needs a look as well.

This article from Business Week is probably the best I’ve read on the possible lockout and includes a lot of information that deserves some attention. Take this diddy here:

One thing everyone can agree on is that a lost season would be a financial disaster. Even if a deal is struck by Sept. 1, in time for the regular season, the NFL could lose up to $1 billion—including up to $100 million per weekend at the gate for canceled preseason games. Sponsors, who plan their ad campaigns more than a year in advance, already have safer options for their budgets, starting with the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The NFLPA says a lost season could cost every NFL city $160 million in jobs and revenue. The 1,900 players would lose a combined $4.5 billion in salary and bonuses, while the league concedes it might have to impose pay cuts for its own 1,000-odd employees. Then there are the thousands of sports bars that will struggle to pay the rent with pro bowling on TV during Sunday afternoons. “Our business would be one-third depleted just from the Packers not playing,” says Jerry Watson, owner of Green Bay’s Stadium View Bar & Grille.

If negotiations end up coming down to a game of chicken, the deep-pocketed owners are much better prepared than the players to prevail. They’re sitting on $900 million—a potential “lockout fund,” says Atallah—comprised, in part, of life insurance and pension payments withheld since the salary cap expired last March. (Such withholdings comply with the current collective bargaining agreement.)

The league’s TV deals with the networks also pay more than $4 billion for next season, even if not a single game is played. (For any canceled games, the broadcast companies—CBS (CBS), NBC (GE), ESPN (DIS), Fox (NWS), and DirecTV (DTV)—would receive credits for future contests.) The NFL’s general counsel, Jeff Pash, has compared the arrangement to “borrowing on a home equity line,” but the players union describes it as an insurance plan for a lockout. Last month, the NFLPA filed a complaint against the league over the TV agreement that will be adjudicated by a federal-court-appointed special master, who will also decide a separate complaint alleging that league owners colluded to restrict player salaries.

However, the players may have legal means to fight a lockout. According to former player and current power agent Tom Condon, the co-head of Creative Artists Agency’s football unit, the NFLPA could abandon its status as a union. Players could then sue, arguing that the NFL’s 32 teams are independent businesses colluding to restrict players’ pay. Just last year the U.S. Supreme Court argued that, for licensing purposes, the teams should indeed be treated as separate entities. “If the owners make the determination to proceed with the lockout,” says Condon, “you can anticipate the players responding by trying to get an injunction.” It’s a move that has proven effective in the past. After a strike broken by replacement players, in 1987, the NFLPA decertified two years later. The move triggered approximately 20 lawsuits—including the one that helped create free agency in 1993.

In summary, the NFL is riding high right now with ratings higher than ever, but ticket sales are falling, fans are fickle, and the NFLPA is hell bent on exposing the murkier side of business dealings. The players remain at a serious disadvantage, but it would behoove the league to take a close look at their practices and honestly assess whether they could be more fair.

On a whole, from practice squad players to sports agents, no one involved with the NFL will be unaffected by a lockout should it happen. I hope this post provides a little insight into why a work stoppage is feared by most.

PS: Thanks to @nwilborn19 a great sports journalist (not a lowly blogger like me) for giving me the idea for this post.

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