I wasn't surprised by the NFL Nation Confidential poll results when players were asked what concession they would be willing to make in order to gain guaranteed contracts. The overwhelming majority of players I've spoken with the past few years support HGH testing, which garnered 63 percent of the vote. They want a clean game and a level playing field and are frustrated that some fans write off all players as being dirty each time someone tests positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Call it guilt by association, and they want it to stop.
In fact, the NFL Players Association has stated multiple times that it's willing to sign off on HGH testing if the league agrees to neutral arbitration for all appeals. To date, that hasn't happened. Commissioner Roger Goodell is holding firm that his office should have final say on all disputed test results. Perhaps he feels that acquiescing would open the door for an assault on his powers and authority, and if there's one thing we've learned over the years it's that Goodell likes being judge, jury and executioner.
So, the standstill continues -- and is likely to continue for some time because each side appears to have set its feet in concrete.
The other tradeoffs for guaranteed contracts were not as appealing for players because they involve true concessions:
Eighteen-game schedule (17 percent)? That's more wear and tear on the body for no additional pay. The current schedule consists of 16 regular-season games and four preseason games; the league would like to go to 18 games in the regular season and two in the preseason. The players view that as not only a change in working conditions, but also an increased workload for which they'd want to be compensated if the change ever occurred. Not surprisingly, some owners see things differently. Houston's Bob McNair told me five or six years ago, when the idea was first being floated publicly, that players already are paid for 20 games, so no salary adjustment was needed if two games were taken from the preseason and added to the regular season.
Five years to free agency (14 percent)? Some players contend the four years currently required for free agency is too long, particularly when teams have tag and option mechanisms that can restrict player movement for another one or two years beyond that. If you're a veteran who receives a lucrative free-agent contract, no question you'd love to have that money guaranteed. But if you're a rookie under the current collective bargaining agreement, and you might not reach true free agency until your seventh year -- you play four years on your rookie deal, the fifth year under a team option and the sixth year under the franchise tag -- you might not ever get to that lucrative free-agent deal if you're injured or teams overuse you (are you listening running backs?), damaging your value.
More offseason practices (6 percent)? I was surprised that this received the smallest percentage of votes. Guaranteed money for a few more offseason practices seems worthwhile, but either players like the freedom they have under the existing CBA, which cut back on the number of days and amount of contact in offseason workouts, or they're suspicious of what those added practices would entail.
So, "conceding" to HGH testing really comes as no surprise as the popular option. For many players, it would be viewed as a win-win.