ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen joined the Mut & Merloni show Monday afternoon to discuss the latest developments regarding the NFL labor negotiations.
Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported Monday morning that a deal was close and was expected to be ready for a vote at the July 21 league meetings. However, there appears to be at least one key sticking point preventing the end of the lockout.
"The bottom line is they're still hung up on a couple of issues," Mortensen said. "The most, I think, troubling one — and to me a little surprising — is the rookie wage system that owners are hung up on, a matter that doesn't make sense to me, and it doesn't make sense to the players side."
Explained Mortensen: "The players have basically agreed that we're going to cut rookie salaries about in half in terms of the amount of money they're paid. … But where the players are pretty upset … what they're seeing is this control over the fifth year. In other words, the players really want after four years for these rookies — who are no longer rookies — to be able to experience free agency like a true veteran. Because since you've already slashed the rookie salaries in half … then they should be able to experience what most veterans do, and that is free agency after four years. Owners want a fifth-year option that's a little more restrictive than the players are willing to have. If there's going to be a fifth-year option, it's got to cost the owners. And that's where they're hung up at."
Added Mortensen: "It's been a thorn in the side they've been hung up on for a while. The thought was once you agreed to the revenue model, and how you're going to split revenue, that this should fall in. There shouldn't be an issue. But there is an issue, clearly. … I think there is a growing sense of optimism that this should get done. But I can tell you that the players really feel that they've gone about as far as they're going to go on this rookie matter."
Asked how optimistic he is a deal will get done this week, Mortensen said: "I can't understand why this rookie issue would hang up this agreement. So, obviously, I would be pretty optimistic. But when you listen to the two sides, knowing that they're dug in a little bit on this thing is a little troubling."
Mortensen credited the Patriots owner as playing a key role in getting this deal to the brink of completion.
"There is no question — no question, that Robert Kraft has been a major, major voice in what is about to happen, and he has been a voice of reason, from what I gather from both sides," he said.
As for the length of the deal, Mortensen said: "I'm hearing seven years … seven years with maybe an option to add three more to turn it into a 10-year deal. But seven years is the number I'm hearing. Which is good news — the longer, the better."
Asked if the Patriots will have an advantage from the short offseasons as less stable teams struggle to catch up, Mortensen agreed to a point.
"You could probably name a dozen teams, and certainly the Patriots would be right near the top of that," he said. "But they also have rookies they've got to get indoctrinated into their system. One of the great strengths of Bill Belichick, he has to be the best teacher in terms of just teaching the game, coaching the game. Coaches are teachers. Rookies are rookies. In that regard, the Patriots are handcuffed like everybody else.
"But the teams that are really in trouble are the obvious ones, new coaching staffs … and teams with unstable quarterback situations or rookie quarterbacks. We know the Patriots don't have an unstable quarterback situation, and they certainly don't have an unstable coaching staff."
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