Chiefs weather the storm…for now


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chiefs weather the storm…for now
Mar 07, 2006, 4:16:42 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ

Not a whole lot seems clear in the NFL this week, except:

The Chiefs’ roster should not be significantly weakened by negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement.

The Chiefs will have a hard time improving their talent if the salary cap remains stuck on $94.5 million.

And the NFL can’t afford to mess up this good thing it has going.

None of the Chiefs’ salary cap casualties so far affects their 2006 outlook. Of the four players released, only cornerback Eric Warfield was a projected starter, and he hasn’t developed into the Pro Bowl player that his physical tools suggested he could become. The Chiefs waited eight years for him to blossom, and that’s long enough.

Of course, identifying expendable players is a lot easier than finding better replacements. And it’s hard to see the Chiefs finding the salary cap room to add any free agents who could be difference makers. If the salary cap remains stagnant, merely maintaining a roster’s strength probably qualifies as a win.

We ought to know by midnight Wednesday whether the league will remain a mess through the off-season, or if players and owners can agree to extend the collective bargaining agreement. That would boost the salary cap by about $10 million.

Since the current system took effect in 1993, the NFL’s labor-management relations have been the envy of pro sports. Both sides actually have found a way to keep everybody rich and happy.

Just in case players or owners got restless, the agreement is filled with enough poison pills to make each side think twice about letting it expire. Surely, the players wouldn’t want a salary cap so low this year that highly-paid veterans will be jettisoned.

Surely, the owners wouldn’t want to have their hands tied in free agency with a $94.5 million salary cap in 2006 and perhaps no cap in 2007. There also are other conditions that are meant to seriously discourage either side from opting out of the agreement.

Yet both sides already have the poison pills halfway down their throats. The players claim their share of the pie would shrink under the owners’ latest proposal and they want to expand the revenue streams that are included in the salary pool.

While owners have had no problem sharing national TV and most ticket revenues, other revenues, notably from stadiums, have not been shared. Because high-revenue markets don’t want to expand revenue sharing, the owners will have to agree on how they split their own pie before they can agree on how much to split with the players.

If talks break down, both sides have enough weapons at their disposal to start a nasty war. If NFL owners were given an uncapped 2007 season, those with money to burn might emulate their baseball counterparts and try to outspend the low-revenue teams into submission. That would mean tougher sledding for the Chiefs.

That also would open the possibility of owners locking out the veteran players in 2008 until an owner-friendly agreement is signed. The last pro sports lockout wasted the 2004-2005 NHL season.

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw strengthened his hand in 1989 when he decertified the union. That allowed the players to take their grievances to federal court instead of the bargaining table, a tactic that led to free agency. Upshaw says he’ll do that again to fight a lockout.

The Chiefs, for the time being, seem to have the situation under control. But nobody will have the situation under control if the collective bargaining agreement lapses. Then it’s only a matter of time before what happens off the field starts to infect what happens on the field – or, in the worst case, what doesn’t happen on the field.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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