It took nearly five months to come to agreement, but isn't it incredibly fortuitous (hopefully you can detect the tacit sarcasm in that last phrase) that everything came together in the protracted NFL labor negotiations just in time to preserve not just the 2011 season but virtually the entire preseason schedule as well.
Give me a frickin' break! Did you really ever think that the NFL labor dispute wasn't going to be resolved in time for the regular season? One of the common grounds that had the support of both sides all along in the contract talks between the NFL owners and the chief assets of their football operations, the players, was that neither side wanted the negotiations to cause the loss of real games or, worse, the entire 2011 season. That outcome would have resulted in a lose-lose to all sides, at least over the short term.
Some of the player representatives, including offensive lineman Rudy Niswanger of the Chiefs, from the teams who were a part of the contract discussions over the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, which when formally signed will run for 10 years (through the 2020 season), contend that the extra time it took to reach a constructive agreement on the new CBA was well worth it.
"We hate that it took this long," Niswanger said in an interview with The Kansas City Star. "But tough things aren't easy. The right things aren't always easy. The wait was worth it, and I can say that with 100 percent certainty," he said.
I'm not so sure the two sides couldn't have come to the same agreement much sooner, but then that's the way these labor contract talks seem to go in the world of professional sports, especially with all the money that is involved and at stake in the negotiations. Make no mistake, money is at the heart of all labor disputes in professional sports. The one huge differentiating factor is that the owners are dealing from a position of billions, when it comes to financial strength, and the players from a position of millions.
So be it. It's all done now save for the final formal procedural steps, and the NFL is back, to the delight and relief of tens of thousands of diehard NFL fans and, I'm sure, the TV networks and all the suppliers of NFL licensed merchandise.
The free-agent free for all began yesterday - at least the talking stage, that is - with more than 400 unrestricted free agents available to move on the NFL market if the offer is right. You can add to that a number of restricted free agents, so designated by each team, for which a draft compensation pick is attached to the signing of any of this particular category of free agents. Teams are now talking to their own unsigned free agents and available free agents from other teams, but they cannot officially sign any of them, including their own, until after 6 p.m. this Friday.
The Chiefs, like all 32 NFL teams, are busy as ever right now, talking with their own free agents as well as those of other teams that they feel can help strengthen and improve Kansas City's football team. On Tuesday, the Chiefs reached agreements to retain backup wide receiver Terrence Copper, starting center Casey Wiegmann and defensive back Travis Daniels, and there are reports that the team is close to reaching agreements with safety Jon McGraw and defensive lineman Shaun Smith. At the same time, it appears that Kansas City will part ways with linebacker Ron Edwards, who reportedly is ready to sign with the Carolina Panthers.
And this is just the beginning. General manager Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley still have to make decisions on a number of other Chiefs unrestricted free-agents, including Niswanger, backup quarterback Brodie Croyle, reserve running back Jackie Battle, tight end Leonard Pope, fullback Tim Castille, wide-receiver Kevin Curtis and linebackers Corey Mays and Charlie Anderson. Among the Chiefs' restricted free agents (for whom a draft pick would come to the Chiefs from any team that would agree to sign any of these players) are cornerback Maurice Leggett, tight end Brad Cottam, defensive end Wallace Gilberry, cornerback Brandon Carr, offensive tackle Barry Richardson, fullback Mike Cox and safety Reshard Langford.
Of these two groups, my guess is that we'll see Battle, Castille, Curtis, Mays and perhaps Pope back again next year among the Chiefs' unrestricted free-agent group, or at least on the training camp roster. The rest are probably gone. As for the restricted free agents, look for Pioli & Company to resign Leggett, Gilberry, Carr and Richardson, unless a more lucrative offer comes their way.
As part of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams are constrained not only by a salary spending cap, but also by a minimum spending amount. "We do have some cap space so we're not constrained," Chiefs' chairman Clark Hunt told The Kansas City Star on Tuesday. "We also don't have to worry about meeting the league minimum. That's something we'll easily meet. So we'll be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of the football team without having to worry about constraints on either side," he said.
General manager Pioli echoed the remarks of the Chiefs' chairman at a news conference held by the team on Tuesday. "It's a philosophical belief of mine and Todd's that spending money isn't what makes us a good football team," he said. "Spending wisely on good football players makes a good football team."
Under the league salary rules, all NFL teams combined are required to spend, in cash, at least 99 percent of the league's salary cap, set at $120.4 million. "We spent probably to the tune of $110 million last year, and we're going to continue to spend when we feel it's right and it's productive," Pioli said.
Putting the best team on the field that they can will be even more important for the Chiefs this season than it was a year ago. As defending AFC West champions, Kansas City will have a much more difficult schedule to contend with than was the case in 2009, when the team was coming off a 4-12 record and its third consecutive season of four or fewer wins.
Now that NFL news has forced Major League Baseball off of the front page of sports sections nationwide, it's easy to overlook one of the more noteworthy times of the baseball season: the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Players traded or acquired before this annual trading deadline do not have to clear waivers to be moved to a new team in either league.
There's been minimal action on this front to date, but that's not really unusual. Look for trade activity to hit its crescendo this weekend as the deadline draws near. This is the time of the MLB season when it's relatively easy to distinguish the buyers from the sellers, depending on where a team sits in the standings two-thirds through the regular season schedule. It presents non-contending clubs with the opportunity to cut loose high-salaried, older players for promising younger prospects that hopefully can develop into future stars.
Count the Kansas City Royals among the sellers in this market, a position they have become way too accustomed to over the years. The question is: Who from the Royals' current roster could find themselves wearing the uniform of a different team come next Monday?
For most of the season, it appeared center-fielder Melky Cabrera would be a good bet to be moved by this time this season, but as the trade deadline nears, that prospect seems less likely. Right-fielder Jeff Francoeur is another player with value that other teams likely would be interested in acquiring, but as one of the team's more productive players at the plate and with a rifle of an arm in the outfield, I don't see how the Royals can afford to give up on him just yet. Even closer Joakim Soria has been talked about as potential trade bait.
Whatever the Royals elect to do at this time - which could be nothing - they must do something to improve upon the worst starting rotation in Major League Baseball. And don't kid yourself, the best pitching prospects down on the farm aren't ready to fill this glaring void in the Royals' major-league roster.
It's the closest thing to organized chaos that you will find in professional team sports. With player movement in both the NFL and MLB expected to reach a frenzied pace this weekend, you're definitely going to need a scorecard to sort out who's going where and who's not.