The quest for a new NFL collective bargaining agreement was never about the owners versus the players. The league knew the players' association, once the weakest in sports, finally had its act together. There was no doubt the owners would to have to surrender a larger cut of the colossal revenue pie.
How big a piece the players would receive was relatively incidental to reaching an agreement. The central issue was the manner in which owners would address the widening disparity in gross team revenues and ensure a long-term competitive balance in a sport that worships at the altar of parity. It's on that front the league failed, and miserably so.
What the NFL has done is widen the chasm between large- and small-market teams. Franchises such as Buffalo and Cincinnati that spend to the cap would incur $20 million in player salary increases over the next two years, a burden that exceeds what they'll receive from the NFL's laughable, bare-bones revenue-sharing plan.
It's no wonder Bills owner Ralph Wilson was struggling to comprehend the finer points of the deal. Who could make sense of backward logic that places a greater financial burden on the franchises least equipped to bear it?
Bengals President Mike Brown joined Wilson in voting against a deal that was -- let's be clear about this -- a railroad job. Big-market owners dragged their feet until the threat of an uncapped season terrified their little brothers. Then they offered meager revenue-sharing concessions to create the illusion of an in-house compromise.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if small-market interests remained united and called their bluff. There's only so much small-market teams can spend on players, cap or not. Remove the ceiling, however, and the big boys would have availed themselves to bidding wars that would have taken a substantial chunk out of their profit margins. They're the ones who should have been shuddering at the prospect of no salary cap.
But the small-market bloc collapsed, with only Wilson and Brown standing firm in dissent.
"The deal is tremendously costly," Brown told Bengals.com. "The high-revenue teams, although they were willing to shift money to low-revenue teams, they weren't prepared to shift money in proportion to the amount they put cost on us."
It won't take long at all for the downside of this new collective bargaining agreement to come to the fore. Large-market franchises will continue to lure prime talent by offering signing bonuses their little brothers lack the liquidity to match. Never mind that bonuses have been capped. They still remain an issue of affordability.
Teams rolling in revenue will continue driving up salaries on the coaching market, further taxing clubs on the lower end of the financial scale. Remember, Gregg Williams doubled his salary when Washington hired him as defensive coordinator after he was fired as head coach of the Bills.
Time will show the Williams signing was the beginning of a trend. Ego assures there will always be a pool of head coaching candidates. But how deep will that pool be once big-market clubs are paying coordinators $5 million a year, twice what the little guys are budgeting for head coaches?
Reports are circulating that Paul Tagliabue is ready to step down as NFL commissioner at this point, which would be a shrewd bit of timing on his part. Better to leave while the applause still resonates, labor peace having been achieved, than to stick around while the deal plays out and the debilitating ramifications are exposed for all to see.
This was the defining test of Tagliabue's 17-year reign as commissioner. He should have been championing the cause for a form of revenue sharing that would have appeased the haves while fortifying the have-nots. Instead, he catered to the whims of Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones and the like, acquiesced to the mighty instead of taking a firm stance in defense of the league's overall good. "Dr. Feelgood," as one NFL owner calls Tagliabue, couldn't carry Pete Rozelle's briefcase.
Bills fans have more reason than ever to sweat the fate of the franchise in the post-Wilson era. This agreement ensures the gap in franchise values will continue to broaden, jeopardizing the stability of teams in smaller markets. If the Bills are ultimately offered to the highest bidder, which is a reasonable expectation, only an act of philanthropy born of geographic loyalty will ensure the team stays put.
Because while the Bills might remain mildly profitable in Buffalo, they would be immensely profitable in San Antonio, Las Vegas or Los Angeles. And do you really believe the owners who approved this deal would stand in the way of such a move?