GREEN BAY - NFL owners could lock out players if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached by March. Both sides are negotiating several issues that all revolve around money. And the biggest loser in a lockout might just be the Green Bay area.
While the Packers gear up to take on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the team and the players are preparing for an even bigger battle in the off season. A new collective bargaining agreement, one that has the team owners taking on the players' union that could result in Rodgers, Matthews, Driver and the rest of them being locked out over money.
"Management has the option of locking out just like the union has option to strike," said Packers President Mark Murphy.
Murphy is hopeful the end of the current collective bargaining agreement in March doesn't come to a work stoppage in the National Football League.
The NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith feels the same way.
"Early on we told the owners we would play under the same deal and extend the same deal we had for another six years, none of the players asked for anything more. We never have," said Smith.
Professional football is a game with millionaire players and billionaire owners, which means it's really no game at all. It is big business.
In 2009, NFL revenues topped $9-billion. Under the current collective bargaining agreement $1-billion off the top goes to the owners to help cover operational costs. The rest is then split roughly 60 percent for the players, and 40 percent to the owners.
"We do need to see some changes in the current agreement," said Murphy. "You know the last agreement signed in 2006 really doesn't recognize the expenses we incur to generate the revenue we end up giving to the players."
Murphy points to rising team costs eating away profits. Franchises are building new stadiums, helping to launch the NFL Network, and paying more for healthcare in addition to other added operational expenses.
Last year the Packers reported a profit of $9-million, but that's down from $20 million the year before, and $35 million the year before that. A trend Murphy says teams around the league are facing.
"We're the only team whose financial records are made public and since 2006 our player costs are growing at two times the rate of revenue, can't continue need changes," said Murphy.
Team owners are asking for more of the NFL revenue off the top for operational expenses. Instead of last year's $1-billion, owners are asking for $2.4-billion with the remaining revenue split the same-- 60 percent to the players, 40 percent to the owners.
The players union stands by the current deal.
"If there's something economically wrong with this deal...show us the financial data that says the NFL is in some sort of economic extremist and so far all we have head back from one of their lead negotiators is that's none of our business," said Smith.
There are many other financial issues being negotiated including larger pensions for retired players, lower rookie salaries, and an 18-game regular season, offering more football for fans and more money to the NFL owners and players. Sources close to the players union says with 18 games the union would like two bye weeks and up to five extra players on the roster.
"The move to an 18 game schedule is a way to bridge the gap with the players but we need to do it in the right way," said Murphy.
More games bring up new issues like additional compensation and better safety measures. Players worry additional games could shorten their lifespan in the league.
"They want to add games they want to cut benefits and everything kind of feels like it's not fair to the players and especially if it's a lockout it's not fair to the union and the ladies and gentlemen that works at the stadium," said Brandon Jackson, Packers running back.
Jackson took part in a rally last month to support the union. As he points out, more than just the players and the owners are involved in working out a new collective bargaining agreement. As a football city, Green Bay, its fans, and its businesses could also have a risky financial season without a new deal between the players and the owners.
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