If you read the papers, the blogs and the various media outlets, you will surely see that the NFL and NFLPA are putting out the vibe that negotiations are progressing productively. The two sides project an image ranging from unbridled enthusiasm to cautious optimism. On the one hand, there is way too much money to kick away by either side holding out for a better deal and a few extra percentage points of revenue to come their way. This argues strongly that a deal will be made. On the other hand, when it comes to labor negotiations, we can refer back to the old Yogi Berra-ism, paraphrasing goes something like: "it's not over 'till it's over". Until the deal is agreed to and the ink is dry on the contracts, the deal could just as easily go south as come to a happy conclusion.
The major issues in the negotiation seems to come down to three items, IMO: (1) the split of revenue between the players and owners and secondarily, what revenues are included in the defined revenue pool; (2) whether there will be revenue sharing among the owners - this was included in the last CBA and the big market, hard line owners are dead set against it; (3) how much money will be devoted to retired players for benefits, medical coverage, etc.
Item 1 above, the split of revenue, is most important and probably the easiest to resolve. The other two items, revenue sharing and retired players benefits are issues that could really blow things up, because they represent divisions within each negotiating team rather than a divide across opposite ends of the negotiating table. Like I said, the fat lady hasn't started singing and this opera is still going.
There is one feature of the proposed deal that has been leaked to the media outlets and presents very interesting decisions for the various teams in the league and specifically for the Giants. Players will become UFAs after only 4 years of service, instead of 5 in the previous deal. In fact, in 2010, the last uncapped year of the previous deal, service years for UFA was temporarily raised to 6 years. This means that this year, there will potentially be a ton of FAs as compared to other years. Players that have reached 4 years of service after 2010, players that have reached 5 years of service after 2010 and players that would have been FAs after 2009, but for 1 year rise to 6 years in 2010, will all be FAs coming into 2011. That is 3 times the normal allotment of FAs and there will surely be a much shorter signing period for all these FAs to find new teams. I am a believer in supply and demand, and with the supply greater, it stands to reason that prices will be driven down. Of course, not all FAs are created equal, so the big name studs will still get their money.
For the Giants, they have decisions to make about several players. The rookie class of 2007, including Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw and Steve Smith could all become FAs under the new 4 year service rule. Aaron Ross was also drafted in 2007, but has a 5 year contract, so he will not become a FA. Barry Cofield and Matthias Kiwanuka are also surely going to become FAs as they have the requisite years of service even under the old CBA.
It is a difficult call for each of these players. Bradshaw has progressed, but he is not irreplaceable. He is neither a bruising, power runner, nor is he a pure speed burner. He has been productive, but my gut feel is that the Giants can find another RB. Steve Smith had a wonderful season a year ago with 100+ catches. But he is coming off a serious knee injury and with lots of depth at WR, with Manningham, Nicks and Barden returning; and with draftee Jerningan as well as Hixon and Cruz set to rejoin the team, it seems that the Giants should not make a big offer to Smith. Boss, on the other hand, might benefit from the lack of depth at TE. Boss is also a 'tweener - not a great pass catcher and not a great blcoker - but Beckum has not showed productivity and Boss may get overpaid because of lack of roster depth at the position.
Cofield also could be a casualty because of roster depth at DT, even though he is an excellent player. Giants have Canty and Bernard at DT and two 2nd round draft choices made in the last two years - Linval Jospeh and Marvin Austin. How many DTs can you carry; especially with Justin Tuck moving inside on some passing downs? For Kiwanuka - assuming he has recovered from his serious neck/disc issue, he may benefit from the Giants propensity to keep as many good pass rushers on the team as possible. JPP is still green and Osi's status has to be considered a little tenuous, so the Giants may try to keep Kiwanuka. With that neck injury, other teams may be loath to sign him, so Giants could get him for a moderate asking price.
The big question is what to do about the OL. More on that in future posts.