Harmony saves day for Davis, Raiders


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Jan 22, 2006
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Harmony saves day for Davis, Raiders

SO, DOES the NFL's last-minute collective bargaining resolution mean that Kerry Collins will be sticking around with the Oakland Raiders? Maybe, but Collins' fate was nothing compared to another man whose Raiders tenure may have hung in the balance in the league's latest labor showdown.
That would be one Al Davis, who just got a new seven-year lease on his NFL life Wednesday night, one that will take him to age 84 as an owner if he so desires. And here's betting he very much desires, in spite of his team's recent ills on the field.

Davis has been running the Raiders since the 1960s, but he very well could have been forced out of football had the new breed of billionaire owners decided not to continue the league's long-standing and uniquely successful formula of sports communism, where the rich share relatively equally with the poor despite increasingly wide gaps in revenue.

The only thing that could possibly drive out Davis from professional football might be an inability to compete. Oakland's competitive viability definitely was being threatened by a potential end to the salary cap as well as radical changes to a revenue-sharing framework that might have tipped the competitive scales toward the big-money, large-market teams.

Oakland is a decidedly small-market team with some of the lowest revenue in the league. The Raiders also play in a stadium that, while adequate, pales in comparison to some of the glistening new superstructures that have opened around the country in recent years. And of course, this is a team already dealing with serious competitive issues, having slumped to a 13-35 record the past three seasons.

But up until now, the Raiders' competitive dip hasn't been a matter of money inequities, but rather a function of bad decision-making, lack of ingenuity, poor coaching and inconsistent play. Fortunately, with this new deal, finances won't be a disability. If the Raiders continue to stink, it's because they'll continue to be stupid, not cash-strapped.

Details are sketchy, but it appears if there are any distinct winners in this revised contract, it's the small-market clubs such as the Raiders. ESPN reported Wednesday night that large-market teams could be kicking in as much as an additional $500,000,000 to the revenue-sharing pool each year above and beyond the TV revenues which all 32 teams already share.

It's not a perfect system by any means but compared to Major League Baseball, where the rich have a clear competitive edge, the NFL's system is a lifesaver for cities such as Green Bay, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and yes, Oakland. Why Cincinnati and Buffalo voted against the proposal is anybody's guess, but if you heard Bills owner Ralph Wilson ramble on about not being able to understand this complicated new proposal, you have some clue.

Davis, on the other hand, clearly understood this was a good deal for both the Raiders and himself. Had a deal not been struck, the repercussions might have been so disastrous the club might have been forced out of Oakland purely as a result of crippling economic strife. The other likelihood would have been Davis simply selling out, conceding that other owners such as Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder and Robert Kraft could and would simply outspend him for the best players year in and year out.

Not even someone who loves life in the NFL as much as Davis does would tolerate a system that would render his franchise the Tampa Bay Devil Rays of football. Heck, Davis has whined often enough about revenue imbalance even when his ability to compete on equal footing was protected by the salary cap. Imagine how unhappy he would be with all the player-spending governors yanked out.

Now, not only Davis but San Francisco 49ers owner John York will continue to be insulated by the league's share-the-wealth dynamic. As much as fans may want to be rid of them, they'd be crazy to leave now. The 49ers, to be sure, can now proceed with some measure of confidence about their long-planned new stadium.

The Raiders, meanwhile, can simply continue being the Raiders. With a 2006 cap reportedly to be set at $102 million, they suddenly may have a little financial flexibility with a few strategic trims and renegotiations. They can still work a new deal with Collins or perhaps make a play for someone such as Minnesota's unhappy Daunte Culpepper. The key is they have options. They might even be able to free up some dollars for a free-agent signing.

Naturally, it may not be the best news for Raiders fans that Collins could be coming back for the long haul. Davis, either, for that matter. But had this settlement not been reached, there might not have been a team in Oakland to fret about very much longer.

With that in mind, maybe we should count our blessings while the NFL's owners and players prepare to count their fresh new piles of dollars.

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