Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Reimer: Let's hope Roger Goodell's absurd contract extension finally forces NFL players to stand up for themselves

Alex Reimer
December 07, 2017 - 1:48 pm

NFL players allowed the league’s avaricious owners to swipe gross amounts of revenue from them during the last round of collective bargaining negotiations. They made a principled stand for several months, but in the end, they eventually submitted to the owners’ demands. It’s largely been the same story throughout the league’s history.

The NFL players’ union faces immense challenges that unions in other sports do not. Union leaders are responsible for nearly 1,700 players, many of whom will only be in the league for a short while. The average NFL career lasts just over three years. That means a sizable percentage of players want to get back to work immediately. Guys at the bottom of the roster need the money, and know they will only be able to get it for a short period of time.

Despite holding out for nearly six months, the players acquiesced to the owners’ demands to take 47 percent of league revenue instead of 50. They also permitted a rookie wage scale, slashing their earnings. Sam Bradford, the last No. 1 overall pick under the old CBA, raked in $50 million before he even showed up to training camp. The next No. 1 pick, Cam Newton, only received $22 million.

Yes, the league introduced some player safety mandates, such as banning two-a-days and regulating the amount of padded practices. The NFL also added $1 billion in new funds for retired players. 

Owners were more than happy to trade those measures for more revenue and the ability to depress wages.

The next round of CBA negotiations aren’t until 2021, since the players signed a restrictive 10-year deal. But the tension already appears to be bubbling. Goodell’s contract extension may push it over the top.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones postured for months, but Goodell eventually inked a new five-year deal that will likely pay him close to $200 million. Compensation Committee chairman Arthur Blank says 26 owners were looped into the negotiations, with Jones receiving the opportunity to present his own proposals at the next round of owners’ meetings in Dallas. 

The backlash from players has been harsh. Browns left tackle Joe Thomas articulated his grievance with a reference to the GOAT himself. 

“Tom Brady makes $20.5mm per year; @nflcommish makes $40mm per year. So does that mean that Roger Goodell is twice as valuable to the NFL and twice as hard to replace?,” Thomas tweeted Wednesday.

Thomas, 33, knows the physical sacrifice it takes to play in the NFL. The unbreakable lineman played 10,363 consecutive snaps from his rookie season up until this past October. All the while, Browns ownership has continued to sabotage the franchise with its incredible incompetence. Despite that gross mismanagement, Jimmy Haslam still collects his percentage of league revenue, which now totals $14 billion. Thomas must work for the money he takes out of the NFL. It's just handed to Haslam, who at least bought his way into the league, unlike many of his beneficiary brethren. 

In all sports, the players get a raw deal in comparison to their bosses. But it’s more stark in the NFL than elsewhere. The lack of fully guaranteed contracts coupled with the sport’s physical brutality is jarring. 

Goodell has fumbled almost every major decision as commissioner. His authoritarian rule has perverted the disciplinary process into a kangaroo court that appears to only enforce his power. Deflategate is the greatest example of this perverse phenomenon. Tom Brady, the best quarterback in league history, was suspended four games for deflated footballs so Goodell could reaffirm his languishing disciplinary authority. 

The domestic violence policy remains a mess, as evidenced by prolonged legal battle over Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension. Ironically, that was almost the episode that cost Goodell his job.

The NFL will likely be faced with cataclysmic concerns over the next seven years. TV ratings continue to sag, attendance is lagging and the black cloud of CTE always hangs over the Shield. Goodell’s resume of failure does not suggest he is the right person for the job. 

But it doesn’t matter. He got his $200 million anyway.

Moments after Goodell’s extension was reported Wednesday, Steelers safety Mike Mitchell went on a diatribe against him. Mitchell hammered the league office for its disciplinary practices, but more importantly, he directed his ire towards the players’ union for allowing the absurd dynamic to exist.

With increased fines and suspensions over player safety violations, more players now witness the league’s disciplinary unfairness first-hand. For the first time, this could be an issue that rallies the masses.

Canceling Thursday Night Football is also a cause that many players could support, given the rash of injuries this season. At the least, it could be a powerful bargaining chip.

There’s still a long ways to go until players could transfer their tough talk into tough action. But now, they have 200 million reasons to hold strong. 

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