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Chris Mortensen on M&M: Rookie wage system holding up negotiations ‘doesn’t make sense’

07.11.11 at 2:39 pm ET
By

Chris Mortensen

ESPN NFL expert Chris Mortensen joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the most recent developments with the NFL lockout, including the issues that are holding a deal up and when he expects things to be resolved. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Mortensen opened by saying that this week’s negotiations are the most important to date on whether or not a new deal will be reached by the scheduled league meetings on July 21.

“This is an important week because everyone has pretty much said that this needs to get finalized,” he said. “Finalized means that there is really no more negotiating after this week, and it is all dotting I’s and crossing T’s and getting everyone to sign off and getting the approval. Bottom line is they are still hung up on a couple of issues. The most surprising one to me is the rookie wage system, that owners are hung up on a matter that doesn’t make sense to me and doesn’t make sense to the players side.”

Added Mortensen: “The players have basically agreed that we’re going to cut rookie salaries about in half in terms of the amount of money they’re paid. … But where the players are pretty upset … what they’re seeing is this control over the fifth year. In other words, the players really want after four years for these rookies — who are no longer rookies — to be able to experience free agency like a true veteran. Because since you’ve already slashed the rookie salaries in half … then they should be able to experience what most veterans do, and that is free agency after four years. Owners want a fifth-year option that’s a little more restrictive than the players are willing to have. If there’s going to be a fifth-year option, it’s got to cost the owners. And that’s where they’re hung up at.”

Mortenson said that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has played and will continue to play a key role in the negotiations.

“There is no question — no question — that Robert Kraft has been a major, major voice in what is about to happen, and he has been a voice of reason, from what I gather from both sides,” he said.

He also said that the Patriots will be in a better position than most teams once the lockout is lifted because of coach Bill Belichick and having a stable quarterback in Tom Brady.

“The teams that are really in trouble are the obvious ones, new coaching staffs … and teams with unstable quarterback situations or rookie quarterbacks,” he said. “We know the Patriots don’t have an unstable quarterback situation, and they certainly don’t have an unstable coaching staff.”

Added Mortensen: “You could probably name a dozen teams [that have an advantage], and certainly the Patriots would be right near the top of that. But they also have rookies they’ve got to get indoctrinated into their system. One of the great strengths of Bill Belichick, he has to be the best teacher in terms of just teaching the game, coaching the game. Coaches are teachers. Rookies are rookies. In that regard, the Patriots are handcuffed like everybody else.”

The franchise tag has a connection to the Patriots and guard Logan Mankins. Mankins was given the franchise tag by the team, and Mortensen said that he has not heard anything to suggest that the franchise tag will be eliminated in a new CBA.

When asked about how a new deal would be reached, Mortensen said that everything would need to be finalized on paper rather than a handshake type of deal.

“There is not going to be a lockout lifted on a handshake deal,” Mortensen said. “This has to be completely finished in writing and signed off on and voted on by both sides with the courts involvement as well.”

He also noted that he is hearing a new deal would be for seven years, with an option for three more years.

Mortensen speculated that he thinks a deal will be reached and there will be no regular-season games lost, but he is hesitant to get too optimistic.

“If you lose preseason games over this rookie issue, that means that both sides have reached a level of stubbornness and self destruction, that is not healthy. I think trust factors break down,” he said. “That is why you hope this week, wise minds prevail.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Mortensen, Logan Mankins, NFL lockout
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