NFLPA’s Winston: Here’s why it’s tough to deal with NFL owners


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(Photos courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)

Talk of Fame Network

From a player’s standpoint, the collective bargaining agreement struck five years ago with the NFL has been good for them.

Salaries are up. The cap is up. Benefits are up. In general, everyone is making more money … a lot more money … than they once did. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t hiccups, as a recent decision by arbitrator Stephen Burbank demonstrated.

Burbank ruled that the league mischaracterized $120 million as ticket revenue by creating an improper exemption — saying the NFL created a fund that isn’t covered by the current CBA and that the money should have been included in a pool that determines the salary cap.

The decision was portrayed as a significant victory for the players. But it was more than that. It was a reminder to players that they can’t completely trust the other side — or, as NFLPA president Eric Winston put it on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, why it makes it difficult “to have a constructive relationship” with league owners.

“It’s very rare that an arbitrator rules directly from the bench right after he’s heard the argument,” said Winston, an offensive tackle who played with Cincinnati last season. “So that tells you it wasn’t something that he pondered on for months and months and finally made a decision. He ruled immediately. He knew exactly what the situation was, and he knew exactly what the league did.

“That’s the problem at this point now. When you look at personal conduct … when you look at this situation and other situations … unfortunately, the league’s taken this stance that, ‘Well, if it’s not going to really hurt us at the end of the day we’ll just try to do it anyway, and maybe we won’t get caught.’ That’s unfortunate. And, at the end of the day, that makes it really hard to have a constructive relationship.”

Nevertheless, the current labor agreement has been a financial windfall for both sides, with league and player revenues skyrocketing so much that the current salary cap has jumped to $155 million per team – an increase of $35 million in four years.

“The one thing I know about this deal … and where the cap is going … is that it’s doing what we said it was going to do,” Winston said. “Of course, I would want 99 percent of the revenue (he laughs). Is that possible? Probably not. Of course, I want the maximum amount of percentage of revenues that we can. But we also knew that getting into this deal was that we structured it in a way where it was a revenue-sharing deal, meaning that owners’ revenues, the revenues of the league and our salary cap are positively correlated. They’re going to go up together.

“There’s a thought out there sometimes that when you hear, oh, (Dallas owner) Jerry Jones made $200 million this year, but the players (didn’t) … well, if he’s making money then we’re making money. And that’s what it means to be in a revenue-sharing deal. So when the league revenues go up, our cap goes up. And that’s a good thing. That’s the way it should be.”

Nevertheless, the players’ union is trying to make headway in areas where it believes changes need to be made, and at or near the top of that list is the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Players don’t like commissioner Roger Goodell serving as judge, jury and executioner, though it’s a role it gave him when it signed off on the CBA.

“You look at this personal-conduct issue and this policy,” said Winston, “and the way it’s been implemented and just how bad, I think, it really is … That is something that’s affected the competitive balance, and people don’t really talk about it. The arbitrary nature of decisions have affected the competitive balance around the league.

“But I think that, on a whole, they’ve just been unfair and have been handed down unfair. All the other sports have gotten to a place where there’s nothing like that; (where) there’s a clear system, there’s a fair system, and everybody knows exactly what it is. And I’m hopeful we can get to that point at some point. But right now we’re not there. And that leads to more and more of my guys’ criticisms of the league and problems with the league.

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