Regular season intact
Very few of the in-the-know experts around the league predicated actual games would be lost due to the lockout, as the NFL was in great financial health before this extended dark period and there was too much money at stake, but run-of-the-mill fans had to think it was at least a possibility. Sure, the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Canton between the Bears and Rams is officially scrapped, but in the end the season will start on time with every team prepared to play a 16-game schedule.
The first full slate of games commences Sunday, September 11th, which is the 10-year "anniversary" of 9/11, and now the principals don't run the risk of totally embarrassing themselves in a billionaires-vs.-millionaires squabble on what should end up being an emotional day in this country.
Rookie contracts sensible
It's preposterous to think that this past April's No. 1-overall pick in the NFL Draft, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, could have signed a deal that guaranteed him more money than the contract Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers currently has, but that likely would have been the case if not for the work stoppage. Not only will the cash set aside for first rounders be drastically reduced until they prove they are indeed capable of being stars at the game's highest level, but those five-year deals that can cripple a franchise for a decade -- like arguably the biggest bust of all time, JaMarcus Russell, did for Oakland -- when a blunder is made in Round 1 should be a thing of the past.
Also, rookies will no longer scoff at being selected in the seventh round and prefer to choose their team as an undrafted free agent, as all draft picks will now have the ability to sign a guaranteed three-year deal.
No 18-game schedule
It's understandable why owners wanted an 18-game schedule, because even though the players would still be asked to suit up 20 times (two preseason games and 18 regular-season games, as opposed to four preseason games and 16 regular-season games), selling a 20-week package to the networks can generate a ton more revenue than even the insanely bloated 17-week package -- there would have been a second bye added, hence the three-week jump -- currently does. On top of that, more games that matter means more money spent on parking and concessions at every stadium in the league, plus more eyes glued to the television to spike ratings.
However, despite the fact that it would have put more coin in their own pockets, virtually no players were interested in extending the regular season by 12.5 percent, and in the end 16 games was already a perfect number for fans to digest.
Benefits down the road
DeMaurice Smith is a little more of a showman than he needs to be, certainly much more so than the late Gene Upshaw ever was, but you have to give him credit for doing his best to unite not only the current players, but also the former players. In the past, there had been plenty of discourse between NFL players present and past, as the young guys didn't appreciate the groundwork laid before them and the old guys were bitter about how much money was to be made in today's game, and yet Smith told the union from the very start of this process that he wanted to represent all football players, both present and past.
As a result, a "legacy fund" will be created and includes $620 million in new money allocated specifically for retirement benefits, so hopefully the struggling former stars can finally get some assistance and the current stars won't be staring financial hardship right in the face once they blow out their knees and can't play anymore -- it breaks fans' hearts when they see a relatively young Hall of Famer Earl Campbell like confined to a wheelchair.
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A decade of stability
NFL fans were forced to deal with an entire offseason of strife because the owners opted out of a deal that was producing $9 billion in revenue, and unlike what's going on in the NBA right now, where some teams are simply bleeding red, the league is as healthy bottom line-wise as it's ever been. Assuming that everything gets done, there may be no opt-out clauses for either side for the entire 10-year period the new collective bargaining agreement covers -- rumors suggest the players are asking for the ability to opt out after seven years, though.
While there are still a lot of I's to be dotted and T's to be crossed, fans should feel good about the fact that all the Y2K-like disaster scenarios were avoided, so it's safe to go ahead and pull your jersey out of the bottom drawer again.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|