Voice of the Fan

**On to free agency, finally

*EDITOR'S NOTE: Texans fan Alan J. Burge continues to write his "Voice of the Fan" column for HoustonTexans.com. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

*I can never remember what came first, the golden goose or the golden egg (that Covey seminar really helped me, didn't it?) but whichever it is, NFL owners and the players union  finally came to their senses and secured labor peace for another six years, albeit a week late.

To the owners and players: Thanks for not screwing up a good thing.

To commissioner Paul Tagliabue:  Thanks for finding clever ways to maneuver the high revenue owners, while convincing the low revenue owners that their worlds will not come crashing down on them because they will make only $200 million per year instead of $250 million.

I can't imagine it being easy to facilitate money issues with 32 gazillionaires, but you pulled it off. Tags turned 65 last November and one of the main reasons he has stayed on as commissioner was to get agreement on television and labor deals that reach into the next decade.  Mission accomplished.  I hope your successor is as adept at consensus building.

In the end, it appears that the players came out on top on this one, as the owners agreed to contribute nearly 60 percent of the league's designated gross revenue to the player salary pool. Sixty percent was the mark set by the players union weeks ago and is significantly higher, in terms of dollars, than the 56 percent that the owners initially offered.

The revenue sharing issue between high income and low income teams was finally resolved with an agreement that the top 15 revenue generating teams will contribute to a pool of money that is equally shared with the bottom 17 revenue generating teams.

According to that agreement, the top five revenue generating teams, including our Houston Texans, will contribute the most to that pool.  According to the Associated Press NFL News Wire, that agreement will distribute up to $900 million back into the league over the life of the contract.  Hey, if Mr. McNair's happy, I'm happy.

Other highlights of the agreement:

  • The labor contract is for six years, expiring in 2011.  (I wonder if David Carr will have all the talent he needs around him by then.)
  • The salary cap increases to $102 million this year, which gives all the teams a lot more breathing room than they had just a few days ago.  That, combined with several salary related cuts in the past week, should make the first week of free agency pretty exciting as teams now have more money to spend.  The cap will be $109 million in 2007 and, after that, it will be determined year by year according to league revenue.
  • First round draft picks can sign contracts longer than five years, but players drafted in rounds 2-7 can sign only four-year deals.  This will prevent teams from locking up players past the point of unrestricted free agency.
  • Teams can only designate a franchise player for two consecutive years.  Despite the high one-year salary that goes along with a franchise tag, players don't like it because it prevents them from signing long-term deals that often include guaranteed signing bonuses into the tens of millions of dollars. But even though it's good to understand the rules of player movement and salary control, that's not why we're football fans.  Hopefully the business side of the NFL will now fade to black as fans can refocus on things that are fun like arguing about free agency and who to draft.

You can email Alan Burge at: *aj_texans@yahoo.com*

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