Former NFL Player Bruce Laird Offers Answers as the NFL Braces For A Shutdown

Mar 04, 2011

There's plenty of talk about an NFL shutdown, but what does that really mean? Former NFL player Bruce Laird answered your questions about how an NFL shutdown affects players, coaches, franchises and fans.

Hey everyone, this is Bruce Laird.  Thanks for joining me here today...let's talk NFL and, of course, the potential work stoppage.

The NFL has instituted rules changes to better protect players. Yet the league is also insisting on an 18-game regular season. In the wake of Dave Duerson's suicide, is the league's focus on a longer season in conflict with their purported emphasis on player safety?

That is a situation that presenst two separate problems.  You talk about increasing revenue while at the same time being concerned about player saftey.  After Week 12 this season, there were more players on IR than any time before in a 16-game schedule.  So how can you really be concerned about player safety by adding games...I don't get that.

Bruce: I'm an old Colts fan (I watched the 1958 title game at the age of 10) so I appreciate all your work for retired players who earned little and have few benefits from the league. My question about the current situation is simple: why won't the owners open their books to the NFLPA? The owners continually talk about how they need more money to help "build the league," yet won't disclose their financial records. Why isn't more made of this? Thanks.

Quite frankly, the CBA has many avenues - such as the special masters- where each side, Union & League, can go back and forth re: opening their books. Look at it this way, if you went to your employer saying you wanted to see his income statement or tax returns, do you think you'll get it?  Pro football players are employees...they get W2's

What do the players really have to complain about? They already make more than a majority of Americans. I know you're a former player, but the rest of us would love the salaries and benefits these players probably make.

I played 14 years of pro football and my highest salary ever was under $200,000.  Today, players make 5X what I made in my entire career.  But players aren't complaining about their salaries; the owners want to take money away from them and that's the sticking point.

Are improved benefits for retired players on the negotiating table? What, if anything, do you think will be the outcome of the negotiations on retired players' benefits?

Excellent question!  My group, Fourth & Goal, has been fighting for retired player benefits, such as disability reform, better pensions, health insurance, etc.  We hope that both the Union & the NFL will consider retired players needs in this new CBA...and less of the political bantering on both sides.

It's been reported that NFL owners made an average of $33 million,  a total of $1.1 billion league-wide, during the 2009 season. The average value of an NFL franchise is $1 billion. Do NFL owners really need more money to pay non-player costs associated with operating an NFL franchise, or are they being greedy?

It's interesting that the 32 owners are saying that it's not about their revenue, but their costs.  Isn't it the job of head of households and companies across the nation to control their own costs? As a player of the 1970s & 1980s, I truly don't believe NFL franchises need 22 coaches per team (no disrespect to my friends in the coaching profession).

NFL Commissioner Goodell sent a letter to fans in which he wrote that NFL clubs contracted $1.2 billion to 256 drafted rookies with $585 million guaranteed before they had stepped on an NFL field.  Aren't owners to blame for paying ever-increasing salaries to unproven veterans? If a rookie salary cap is instituted, will that, in turn, lower salaries for all NFL players? Could funds saved through a rookie salary cap instead fund better pension benefits for retired players?

Retired players are not for a rookie salary cap, rather  we are for a rookie ceiling and floor through a bonus structure.  We firmly believe the money saved by instituting a rookie bonus scale would protect veteran players and not make them a casulaty of "business."

How bad do you think an NFL shutdown would affect our ecomony? I'm sure a lot of people make money off those games, like the vendors.

It would have a HUGE financial impact on NFL cities (nevermind Las Vegas).  Where I live, Baltimore, they city as a whole benefits when the Yankees and Red Sox come to Camden Yards becaus of the influx of cash.  That impact translates to the NFL, but you only have eight games to feel that boost.

Peter Gent wrote in his novel, North Dallas Forty, that the real players in the NFL are the owners and that the human beings that wear the uniforms are viewed as nothing more than equipment by the owners. If a player "breaks", the owners discard them as just another piece of broken and useless gear. Do you agree with this view of the NFL?

I think its been that way for sometime...it especially changed over this new CBA.  At the end of the day, franchises stay while players go away.  Just look at how they treated the  "makers" of the game...those guys from the '50s, '60s & 70s. Example, Hall of Famer Herb Adderley makes less than $200 a month on his NFL pension.

In 2010, Nielsen says the NFL represented eight of the top 10 prime-time programs on TV. This year, the Super Bowl attracted a record audience of 111 million. So it seems that players are a commodity without which the league couldn't survive. Shouldn't the NFL be more willing to maintain the CBA status quo?

As I mentioned in my other answer, the players are commodities.  If you were running a business, would 80% of your revenue go to your employees? Likely not.

Bruce , as a season ticket holder. What I see is my ticket price going up from this. Inparticular if they go to eighteen game season. Would they not potentially add roster spots knowing that there will be more injuries ect. So who is going to pay for that? The fans?

The fan & TV revenue pay for everything...so you can bet prices will go up.

Bruce - You had such a great and successful career in Baltimore with the Colts. I was wondering if you keep in touch with any of your former teammates? Also, what are your thoughts of football returning to Baltimore and the success of the Ravens?

I love my Colts teammates...thanks for remembering, and asking.  In fact, more than 20 of us from the 1975-77 AFC East Title teams are gathering in Baltimore this Sunday the 6th.  We're calling it "Corrallin' the Colts" - it's 1-5 at Martin's West and the proceeds benefit retired players. We want as many fans to join us, so go to BabeRuthMuseum.com for info.  As for the Ravens, Baltimore is a football town...Im so thankful forArt Modell and Steve Bisciotti for bringing us such a great franchise and winning club. We never should have lost our franchise in the first place.  Baltimore played in so many historic NFL games and the Colts belong to Baltimore.

In This Chat
Bruce Laird
Bruce Laird started 114 of the Baltimore Colts’ 118 regular season games between 1974 to 1981. In his rookie season, he earned selection to the Pro Bowl, finished the year ranked first in punt and kick returns, as well as kick and punt return yards, and earned First-Team All Pro honors. As a safety, he was a key part of a Baltimore Colts’ defense that won three consecutive AFC East Division titles in 1975-1977. He joined the San Diego Chargers in 1982, where he played for two seasons before retiring from the NFL. Laird is still involved in the game today in a number of ways. He serves as an analyst on Ravens’ football for various TV & radio programs in Baltimore, and is the president of Fourth & Goal, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting retired players in need.
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