No, not the Manny-obsessed media, the fourth-quarter flunkings of the Celtics, or the third-period meltdown by the Bruins, but rather the NFL collective bargaining negotiations are reaching critical mass. Of course, the Patriots are one of the teams sitting back and waiting for the situation to play itself out before making any moves. There are serious implications if the owners and players association cannot get together on this and work something out ASAP. The information out there is so confusing that the dunderheads at WEEI dare not even mention the collective bargaining negotiations because it is far too confusing to them. In the interest of education, here is as simple a breakdown as I can muster in seven steps:

1. The CBA does not expire until after 2007. There are still two more season under the current agreement.

2. 2008 would be the first season with no salary cap, no salary minimum spending, and no draft. Therefore, the players may think there is more money out there for them, but more money will be tossed at unproven rookies, and they also have to deal with the teams (Cincinnati?) that will spend much, much less than the Cowboys, Redskins, Patriots, Giants, and other big market teams. All you doubters need only look at Major League Baseball for evidence to this point.

3. Obviously, there will be a players strike or an owners lockout in 2008 because this sucks for both sides. Just thinking of the television money lost would give any rational person an upset stomach.

4. Right now, in free agency with uncapped years after 2008, the mega-deals of the past become untenable until 2008 as the bonus money (like Tom Brady getting $20 million upfront or Peyton Manning getting $30 million upfront) cannot be spread out over the cap beyond 2008; therefore, the owners are not shelling out the big bucks with no salary cap savings in return.

5. The problem is not with the players. They do not want to take a percentage cut, and nor should they be forced into doing so. What the main problem has become is that the owners cannot work out what money should be spent. Large market owners do not want to give up local monies. On this point, I agree with them. If the Patriots suck money out of Gillette to get naming rights, why should they share it with Cincinnati which has no naming rights. Last I checked, the Krafts put a boatload of their own money into Gillette Stadium. Why the hell should that money go to the lazy-ass Brown family in Cincinnati who only spend to the cap because they are required to by the NFL?

6. Many teams anticipated that with an agreement worked out, the salary cap would jump $10 to $15 million dollars over the anticipated cap. With no agreement, they are totally screwed. In fact, I heard one capologist talking about how it would be mathematically impossible for the Redskins to get under a cap at around $95 million.

7. The players also give up free agent years, salary minimums, have percentage increase limits, and lose benefits (401k, medical, etc) with no collective bargaining agreement. They should be ultra-motivated to make a deal.

The owners have the goose that lays the golden eggs in the NFL. No other sport has prospered, grown, and made more money than the NFL. Both sides should be motivated to find a middle ground where all sides can prosper. I remember the last NFL strikes and lock-outs. They were not pretty (replacement players, ugh!). Both sides need to look for the good in the long and short-term and find a solution: The owners need to keep the local money with the owners who have earned it and increase the percentage of dollars spent on player salaries. This would satisfy the players, it would keep the owners who do the most good for the league happy, and it may force out those losers who do not want spend to win. The last thing the NFL needs is to go back to a model like major league baseball and have a situation where teams know going into the season they have no shot to win. With the cap, all teams can believe they have a shot at winning any year.

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As far as the cut-downs, it is amazing to see how some teams have to shed salary. Arizona, Cleveland, and Minnesota, all $20 million or more under the cap to begin with, have to be drooling as they look at all the veterans being cut loose as teams scramble to get under the salary cap. Have no fear, Patriot fans, the men with the plans have us sitting pretty. If the cap stays around $94 million, there are no cuts to be made. If it goes up, it just makes it that much easier to keep Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, David Givens, and to lock-up Richard Seymour long-term. Heck, they should have enough money to bring back their Super Bowl secondary (who are all out on the open market): Tebuckey Jones (released by the Dolphins), Ty Law (cut loose by the Jets), and Lawyer Milloy (unceremoniously dumped by the Bills to get under the salary cap). Remember how many writers wrote about how the Patriots had Law, Jones, and Milloy to contend with within the division? Oh yeah, that was real tough for them, eh? (Anyone checking my archives to try to rub something I wrote about it in my face will find it was 8/9/05 when I wrote about it. My only comment is that it would be interesting for Brady seeing so many familiar faces.)

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