Seven Things NFL Players Should Demand

1. A role in selecting the Commissioner

It’s often said the commissioner of a sports league is supposed to look out for the “best interests” of his game, not just the short-term financial interests of the owners who employ him. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has given lip-service to the idea that he represents all of the “stakeholders” in football including the players. Why not write that into NFL “law”?

The NFLPA should have the right not only to interview and veto candidates for the office of commissioner, it should also be allowed to issue a “no-confidence” vote in the current commissioner and force the owners to reopen the hiring process. This would constrain a lot of the authoritarian, look-at-me impulses of Roger Goodell and his successors.

2. Replace the NFL Draft with a Silent Auction

The NFL has become addicted to its own Draft hype. They parade incoming rookies around for two months before making them sit through a public “selection meeting” where the worst-run organisations are given the pick of the litter. How many top picks have been wasted on bad teams, particularly at the quarterback position?

It’s time for the NFL to end the draft spectacle and start acting like a responsible business. Instead of a draft, hold a silent auction where each team can bid on the same number of players as it would otherwise have drafted (seven under current rules). This eliminates the problem of prolonged “holdouts,” which the owners cry foul over, and it also treats incoming players with a certain measure of dignity and respect.

3. Eliminate the Extra Rosters

An NFL team actually has three groups of players: The 53-man roster, of which only 45 players may be active for each game; and an eight-man practice squad. Um, what is the point of all this?

Just have a single 61-player roster (or whatever other number is deemed sufficient). If you’re paying 61 guys you should be allowed to play 61 guys.

4. Full Transparency for NFL Finances

A major cause of the breakdown in trust between the NFL and NFLPA is the league’s unwillingness to share its financial data. A lot of future labour problems can be avoided by putting a permanent transparency mechanism in place.

Frankly, there’s no excuse for an entity like the NFL — which is heavily financed by local governments — to withhold any financial data. The NFLPA should invest some money in a Wikileaks-type operation to promote transparency if necessary.

5. No More League Suspensions or Fines for “Off-Field” Conduct

The NFL is in the entertainment business. It’s not a law enforcement agency and it’s not the role of a “commissioner” to right wrongs that occur outside the white lines. Individual teams — the people who actually hire and pay the players — should always have the right to discipline or terminate a player as they see fit, consistent with his contract. But the NFL is a third party and it should not be allowed to retroactively impose its own standards of right and wrong from above.

6. Truth in Contracts

Most people understand NFL contracts are fiction. You can announce that a player signed a 6-year, $78 million deal, but everyone knows that (1) the team can terminate that deal anytime it wants and (2) most of the money is paid up-front as a signing bonus. This makes NFL accounting unnecessarily complex, because the salary cap rules generally prorate that signing bonus over the effective life of the contract, and thus early termination “accelerates” the hit on the team’s cap.

The alternative is to simply guarantee all contracts like the NBA. But there’s plenty of good reasons not to do that. But the NFL could simplify its system. Here’s a thought: Limit all free agency contracts to a maximum length of four years — no exceptions! If the club terminates the contract during the first two years, the player is owed the entire balance of the contract.

During these first two years, the player may also terminate the contract unilaterally and forfeit the remainder. After the first two years, however, only the club may terminate the deal early, and in doing so would owe the player nothing of the future balance.

This guarantees the player at least two years at full salary while giving him an out if he decides, say, after the first year that he thinks he can get a better deal. This would help avoid “holdout” issues. Conversely, it allows the team a measure of flexibility with its roster.

7. Mandatory Lockouts

No, not the lockout we keep hearing about. It’s time to lock out players from “off-season” programs to protect them from their megalomaniacal coaches. Every year we hear about “voluntary” workouts (that aren’t really voluntary), minicamps, and other such shenanigans. Enough already.

Once the NFL season is over, there should be no organised team activities until, say, July 1. My guess is this will actually produce better football since the players won’t be chronically over-coached and over-worked out prior to the start of actual training camps.

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