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The Annual Owners Meeting

The annual owners meetings normally aren't as gloomy as they are this year.   Most of the talk usually centers around a few rule changes that the bigwigs were thinking of tinkering with, but with a very real work-stoppage looming on the horizon, these moneybags are here for business this time.

At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Orlando, several wealthy men have gathered in a meeting room where they will spend the next week complaining about how the game they created is finally beginning to cost them too much money to maintain.

What was once a competition of skill and strategy is now an entertainment empire wrapped in the cold, unforgiving steel of the American business model.  Spending, especially in the race for the sleek and modern venue, is consuming the game whole.  Large cities, coerced by owners into approving tax money towards football stadiums, are struggling to pay their share. The owners are forced to "forgive" the cities on payments that simply don't belong in the city's budget anyway.  Loans on new stadiums across the nation worry the owners collectively. Since they can't ignore their debts to even richer people, they grumble about paying the players excessively and try to fill the potential cash gap that way.

That's the main event this year; how to spend less on team personnel to help finance outlandish loans on entertainment venues that outrageously claimed to boost local economies but, in fact, only made everything worse. Put another way, how to buy cheaper greyhounds for the racetrack.  Take the fact that the Bengals are one of seven teams operating under the $100 million mark on player salaries, compared to last season’s salary floor of $107 million.

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When listening to the main players of this labor-negotiation theater, it's hard to discern the rhetoric from honest opinion.  To be safe, I usually look at the situation from this perspective: there are no honest opinions on television.  The actual negotiating is likely to be an 11th hour affair where both sides are praying the other cracks before everyone is eventually fired, or worse. America is then left to wait impatiently through an autumn with no football.  No one wants to that; you can't jack up a nation to the brink of hopeless addiction to football and then yank it out from us when there's really nothing wrong with it in the first place.  That is how revolutions begin, and, coincidentally, why Covington won't ban cigarettes in restaurants, and also maybe why so many people get arrested for marijuana possession; who knows? 

The point is, the owners are in a tight spot and if the public can see it that way, maybe they can get out of this thing less financially ruined than otherwise. Either way, the owners are going to take a hit in the short-term, which means, invariably, so will the players.  Not the top players though; the bottom is going to fall out from the last man on the roster—that's the man who will feel it the most.  That's why the campaign to gain the people's empathy will be vital to this process for the owners and that, I expect, is what's being discussed to some degree this week in Orlando. 

There is also the owner’s schism to deal with. 

From what I've read, there is a distinct variation of the way the new-guard owners approach their team compared to the fossils.  The old-guard owners, from how I see it, don't have other businesses that are as important as their football team.  They're more resistant to change and are seemingly slower to follow trends.  One of the challenges within the league's ownership may be to unite these two factions to prevent any internal rifts in that 11th hour.  It seems logical then, that this week is the perfect time for the owners to play a bit more golf, do a little more yachting, and really get to know their unfamiliar comrades.  If two or more men are going to collectively exploit the spastic, impulsive attention span of the American public together, they should at least know what kind of cognac the other drinks, for God’s sake.

We do know that Bengals team owner and famed Skeletor-friend Mike Brown will vote against the new proposed overtime format.  This comes as no surprise since Brown also voted against the challenge system and apparently scouting.  I don't necessarily feel all that strongly toward the overtime rule—though I do think de-emphasizing field goals in overtime is cool—I'd just like to see Brown try something new once; it hasn't happened since 1998 when he ordered a Western Whopper instead of the traditional Whopper. 

He still operates the team like it's the early nineties: same scout (yes, singular), same general manager (himself) and same daybreak henchmen to do his cutting at training camp (I don't need to push that any further), and for that, I say "thank goodness for Marvin Lewis."  Imagine if this were still Dick Lebeau's team?  Or worse, Lane Kiffen or Bruce Coslett again—the horror!  No wonder Marvin wants more control running this team; he's the only person in the building who can keep the Bengals ashore.

If Mike Brown relinquishes some of his iron grip on personnel decisions concerning the Bengals, expanding Marvin's role while extending his contract, it will point toward an organizational commitment to a single football brain who can build and shape a winning team.  Lewis has done it arguably three times if you wanna count '03, '05 & '09, and I still think he has a resourceful eye for talent regardless of his misses.  For Brown to hand Lewis something like a general manager position would bring me hope that this team is interested in winning and being competitive. Let him prove that it is not just a heartless business that would rather threaten the community than embrace it. 

Of course, none of that business is likely to transpire at the annual meetings, but it was a worthwhile rant and I don't feel guilty for the digression.

Anyway, seeing Al Davis and his team of cryogenics dawdle around the room and yell at furniture would be something fun to see.  So would laughing at Ralph Wilson and Mike Brown for hanging out in a theater balcony and making fart jokes during Goodell's opening address. Jerry Jones will be there too with his sun-dried Craisin of a face, walking around with his tightlipped smile that surgically remains in place all the time.  Daniel Snyder will surely buy the catering staff and all the chairs in the room while Pat Bolen parachutes into the meeting room by crashing through the ceiling window thereby taking out the lavish chandelier.  I've heard it is just like that; I wish I could cover it.   

Mojokong—I even tried to stay away from Mike Brown this time and I still couldn't do it.