Owners who wield most clout in labor talks

Posted March 03, 2011 @ 3:45 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

We have heard all along that the NFL's labor crisis comes down to owners vs. players in the battle for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But who are the owners? We laid out profiles of each of the 32 NFL teams' ownership situations. And we also outlined their stances on the key issues that divide the two sides.

Now in Part Three of our ownership series as it relates to the soon-to-expire CBA, we explore which owners have been the most active in the negotiation process up to this point — and which ones carry the most weight. Because this matter could end up in court, perhaps soon, it's quite possible that the majority of the heavy lifting has been done. But it's nevertheless worth mentioning who, from the ownership side of things, has done the most to try to get a deal completed.

We've broken them down into three groups demonstrating what their bargaining weight is in relation to getting a new deal done. It should be noted that the owners' 10-man labor committee — co-chairmen Jerry Richardson of the Panthers and the Broncos' Pat Bowlen; plus the Bengals' Mike Brown, the Chiefs' Clark Hunt, the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, the Patriots' Robert Kraft, the Packers' Mark Murphy, the Giants' John Mara, the Steelers' Art Rooney II, and the Chargers' Dean Spanos — has had final say on the issues through the home stretch of the negotiations. But throughout the process since the owners opted out of the current deal in 2008, several owners have made their voices heard.

Here's the list of all 32 teams' voices:

The leaders of the pack

Listed alphabetically by team, these are the owners and other team officials who, once a new CBA is agreed upon, will have had the greatest impact toward that end.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — If nothing else, Jones is a dealmaker. Always has been, likely always will be. Although he has been among the more firm owners publicly voicing the company line, even telling "60 Minutes" he didn't think a lockout would be all that damaging to the NFL, he also has a history for being involved in tricky business deals, as he was with the 2006 CBA. Make no mistake, though: Jones almost certainly will try to slant the deal to be as Cowboys-friendly as possible, which would make the issue of "money off the top" big in his eyes to help fund his new "Jerry World" stadium.

Giants co-owner John Mara — He became one of the first owners to join the negotiations in person after mediation was under way and he sits on the labor committee. In terms of sheer name value alone, Mara is a league titan carrying on the legacy of Wellington Mara, one of the pioneers of the modern game — and many feel John ultimately will play a major role in getting a new CBA done this year. His experience in tricky business matters should serve all parties well.

Packers president Mark Murphy — In his years as an NFL player and former union representative, Murphy likely never figured to be in the position he is now: as a crucial figure supporting the ownership's position. But his experience with NFL labor strife runs deep, and he understands both sides of the coin. Although he has held firm publicly on core issues, he's expected to be one of the men who helps bridge the gap between owners and players.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson — Whether you like his aggressive tactics or not, Richardson automatically is a respected figure and a key player as a co-chairman of the owners' labor committee. There are some who feel he has done more damage in talks than good, but others have countered that Richardson has been a pivotal figure with more respect for the players (as a former player himself) than he lets on.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft — By far among the most optimistic publicly throughout the process of working toward a new deal, Kraft also carries a lot of weight with his fellow owners. He garners respect from his contemporaries and with commissioner Roger Goodell, who has to sell any new deal to the other 31 teams. Kraft is one of the leading voices in the process and is one of the 10-member labor committee.

Steelers president Art Rooney II — As with Mara, Rooney's name alone evokes major respect. And he represents the smaller-market owners well, speaking up for their needs as one of the labor committee members. Although Dan Rooney was a key figure during the 2006 CBA negotiations, he has not been involved this time around.

Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt — One of the younger big hitters, Hunt might not elicit the same reverence that was felt for his late father, Lamar, one of the founding fathers of the league as we know it. But we hear that Clark has bonded well with his fellow owners, served his part ably on the labor committee and has a good measure of trust among league officials, including Goodell. Hunt has been a regular contributor to the labor process for the past two years since the owners opted out of the current agreement.

The second wave

These owners and team officials have not been the leading soldiers during the labor battle, but their contributions in the process should not be overlooked.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen — Although he remains on the 10-man labor committee, Bowlen has been less active in league business — at least in person — in recent times than he was in the past. Bowlen, for instance, participated in a recent labor discussion over the phone. But Bowlen still carries weight among the older guard of owners, even with his reported health issues.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank — A respected businessman and quite a public NFL owner, Blank might not be deep in the trenches as far as labor issues are concerned, but he most definitely has a strong, vested interest in labor and league revenue matters, especially as the team starts work on proposing a new stadium in Atlanta. Former co-workers also speak highly of his motivational voice in business settings.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti — He has been active on league committees, currently serving on the broadcasting and digital media groups, and is frequently spotted at owners meetings. Bisciotti is often alongside club president Dick Cass, who has served as counsel to the NFL, the Redskins and Cowboys, giving him a wealth of experience in league business. Bisciotti has walked in line publicly with the owners' stance on the revenue split, which is believed to be the issue that weighs heaviest with the Baltimore contingent.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson — At age 92, Wilson is not the front-line maverick he once was. But he remains a vocal owner behind the scenes and should be remembered as one of the two owners who voted against the 2006 final CBA proposal that was ratified. He was privately and publicly scorned at the time, but he turned out to be prescient of the owners' future thinking. Wilson previously led the way for the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and was more active in the 1970s and '80s labor battles, taking more of a backseat this time around.

Bengals owner Mike Brown — Another member of the labor committee, Brown often is willing to deflect attention to others and not be the face at the front of the CBA discussions. He also is very selective in what he says to the media, so it's sometimes difficult to judge how much he actively steers league policy. But sources say Brown does a good job in his post on the committee and, along with Wilson, was the other "no" vote back in '06, so he's clearly not afraid to be contrarian and go against popular sentiment.

Texans owner Bob McNair — A diligent attendee of league meetings and respected highly for the way he has built his franchise up from the ground, McNair might not be one of the four or five most involved owners from a CBA perspective, but he has invested loads of his own money into his team, has a keen understanding of NFL issues and has served on many of the league's economic committees in the past. The sheer value of the Texans' franchise alone makes him a power broker.

Colts owner Jim Irsay — One of the more disarmingly colorful and candid owners in the NFL, Irsay is not just the muse in the room. He often has a way of communicating in a big-picture way that puts perspective on matters and makes people reconsider their positions, league sources have said. Well-liked and up to date on NFL goings-on, Irsay is an active, participating member with the owners' best interests in mind — but also one who is not afraid to break ranks to defend his small-market team's goals. Irsay might be misconstrued by his sometimes irreverent Twitter posts, but landing a front-line stadium and a Super Bowl next year (if there's football) proves that he carries a big stick.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf — In many ways, Wilf's future is as tied to the next CBA as any owner's is. He faces a new stadium search process with the Vikings' lease of the Metrodome set to run out after next season, and the Vikings currently generate the least revenue from their stadium. Wilf might not be completely a bottom-line guy when it comes to league business, but he's no dummy, either. He knows the next deal will have a significant impact on his club, and that's why he and brother Mark are keenly involved in the negotiating process.

Jets owner Woody Johnson — A favorite among fellow owners and fans alike, Johnson is a regular attendee of league business meetings and has become very active in league circles over the past decade. Despite his big-city team and impressive business résumé, many who deal with him feel that Johnson has an everyman air about him that appeals to a wide range of people, including those in adversarial positions, too. Johnson has respect from Mara after they worked together on the New Meadowlands Stadium process, and that alone carries weight. Although he has maintained a public face of optimism regarding the CBA, he also has to be nervous through the process with a poor debt-to-value ratio with the new stadium.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie — Lurie has served on nearly every NFL committee you can imagine — although not labor — and maintains a reportedly healthy and strong relationship with many of his fellow owners. His voice is a respected one, and though some believe he loves the film industry (he won an Oscar) as much or more than football, the bottom line is that he has made both the league and his franchise very prosperous. Lurie is surrounded by a strong supporting cast and is active on many business fronts in the NFL currently, especially on the Los Angeles stadium committee, which at least has some indirect relevance to the formation of a new CBA.

Chargers owner Alex Spanos — Son Dean, the team president-CEO, has taken the reins as far as league matters are concerned, and he has carved out quite a niche for himself. Dean serves on the labor committee, having been involved in the Super Bowl negotiations and several other sessions prior to that, as well as being involved in plenty of league ventures and other committees.

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder — As one of the NFL's richer and more well-known owners, running the NFL's second-most profitable franchise, Snyder automatically qualifies as a prominent voice. He might have his share of detractors at times, but Snyder's unquestioned business sense and ice-cold, unemotional instincts have a place in the negotiation process, as far as the other owners are concerned. (Translation: He doesn't mind being the bad guy at times.) Snyder also carries more weight among the other teams than his sometimes tarnished public reputation would suggest because he's a self-educated and self-made millionaire who knows how to get a deal done, even though labor is just about the one committee he doesn't serve on. General manager Bruce Allen also has been involved heavily in some of the later stages of negotiations.

Not on the front lines

These owners and team officials have been more in the margins during regular CBA negotiations, although their votes and support clearly carry equal weight in the end.

Cardinals owner William Bidwill — Although the elder Bidwill remains in good health and has been through previous labor squabbles, he has turned most of the day-to-day business — as well as the traveling to owners meetings — to son Michael, the team's vice president, even if he runs nearly everything by his father. The Cardinals generally will support the majority voice of ownership, and William has been described as a "good solider" in league circles.

Bears owner Virginia McCaskey — Although she is a well-respected figure in NFL circles, she has entrusted the bulk of the league business matters to sons Ed and George, as well as to club president Ted Phillips.

Browns owner Randy Lerner — Lerner often is represented at owners meetings by others, including head coach/president Mike Holmgren and executive vice president of business operations Bryan Weidmeier. Lerner doesn't carry nearly the leaguewide weight in ownership circles that his late father, Al, did even though he was an extremely private person.

Lions owner William Clay Ford — The elder Ford is a giant in the auto industry and a well-regarded name among his peers, but he seldom gets involved in league issues, big or small, these days. Instead, he often farms out league business matters to president Tom Lewand, with William Clay Ford Jr. also taking a hand in NFL issues.

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver — Some of his clout has been diminished with talk of the team's imminent sale, presumably following the completion of a new labor agreement. But don't forget that Weaver shocked the NFL bigwigs not once but twice — first by landing a franchise in North Florida to begin with and then by landing a Super Bowl, although some say that was a cherry on top gifted by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a friend of Weaver's.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — One of the newer men to the NFL ownership party, Ross has spoken out on the negotiations but apparently hasn't brought as much of his real-world business clout to the league negotiating tables. Not that he's not interested or respected; it just appears that Ross has not been one of the more active figures yet. It makes sense, considering he only took control of the franchise in early 2009.

Saints owner Tom Benson — Although he regularly attends league meetings, the colorful Benson isn't always considered a front-liner with regard to NFL business matters. At times, he can be ornery and outspoken, and he hasn't been above engaging in personal disagreements with fellow owners over matters. But he also delegates a lot of day-to-day work to his granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, and will defer to her at times. Benson also is the current chairman of the NFL's finance committee, so he knows the impact of a new CBA.

Raiders owner Al Davis — Not nearly the hawk he was in his former days, Davis nonetheless maintains — and even commands — respect from his owner brethren. The fact that the Raiders engaged in a slew of personnel moves prior to the expiration of the CBA shows you that he's still wired into what is happening with regard to labor matters. Although Davis moves slower at age 81 than he once did, he's still a man of great resource and experience, not to mention maintaining his legendary edge and unique personality.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke — Although Kroenke has been affiliated with Rams ownership since 1997, he became the team's primary owner only last year. The estimated guess on the somewhat mysterious Kroenke is that he is seeking as much ancillary revenue as possible and would not be in favor of an extended lockout, as waning interest in the Rams is the last thing he wants or needs. There's also the issue of a new stadium in St. Louis, but Kroenke — personal interest notwithstanding — doesn't appear to be one of the more active owners in terms of negotiations.

Niners owner Jed York — The 29-year-old Jed is believed to continue to lean on his parents, Denise and John, as well as former team owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. However, the widespread criticism of Jed's father's handling of team matters before he handed the reins to Jed likely has affected Jed's power in ownership circles. Typically, the Niners tend to stick with the ranks on league votes and are willing guinea pigs and good soldiers, as seen by their recent game appearances overseas in Mexico City and London. But their 20-year search for a new stadium also means they likely would join the heel-digging faction as far as the revenue split is concerned.

Seahawks owner Paul Allen — Almost never seen at league meetings, Allen nonetheless has licked cancer twice and is considered to be pretty healthy again at age 58. But the extent of his involvement in league business matters traditionally has been technology, his area of expertise. Team president Peter McLoughlin, who represents the team at league meetings, often is one of the newer faces in the room.

Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer — More figurehead than anything, Glazer allows his sons, Bryan and Joel, to run the Bucs' day-to-day operations. And none of them really is believed to be involved in any kind of labor discussions. The family's reputation, one league source said, is that it runs its team like a business, without a lot of emotional ties to the NFL itself. Which is the family's right, of course.

Titans owner Bud Adams — Adams rarely speaks publicly or leaves his hometown of Houston, although he does travel to major league events and was in D.C. for the final round of mediation between the two sides. His history just in terms of NFL matters speaks for itself: Adams led the AFL-NFL merger charge back in 1970, as well as being on the front lines of the '82 and '87 work stoppages. But he's believed to have taken more of a backseat in these sessions this time around.