NFL Lockout: Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, Will We Or Won't We Have Football This Fall?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 17: Former NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith jokes with media as he arrives for court ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on May 17, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As the NFL lockout remains in place mediation was ordered after a hearing on an antitrust lawsuit filed by NFL players against the NFL owners after labor talks between the two broke down in March. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

According to the media in general, the fight between the owners and players of the National Football League is all over but the shouting.  Adam Schefter has reported that everything has now come down to agreement on the rookie wage scale.  It has become a sticking point because both sides feel as if they have given up more than enough and so this one last stumbling block is proving difficult to overcome. At least that is what the media would have you believe.  Judge Boylan returns for a meeting with both sides on July 19th and then the owners are scheduled to meet in Atlanta on July 21st. That is now the date being floated as when the owners are to ratify the new CBA. Then the transition rules kick in and the season begins.  Just a walk through the park, right?  Maybe.

Does anyone else find it interesting that the sacrifice of the Hall of Fame game is being treated as if it's significance is about the same as the proverbial drop in the ocean?  I know that this is just another 'meaningless' preseason game, but it does have a revenue tag attached to it (reportedly $60 Million) and I thought that conventional wisdom was that there was just too much at stake here for us to lose any of the season.  It now appears that some of the season is lost.  If the season starts July 28th as planned, then there just isn't time to get the teams ready for the game scheduled on August 7th.  Devin Hester was quoted a couple of days ago as saying he would need at least 10 days of practice before he would think about stepping on the field with another team in a game situation.  The loss of the first preseason game doesn't seem to have rung any warning bells even though gallons of virtual ink have been spilled telling us that it just won't happen. Tsunami's are normally preceded by small waves that are used to predict them.  Nah, it just can't happen, can it?   

Here is the schedule being proposed in the 'transition rules'.

  • July 1 (July 21) -- Educate the clubs on the new league rules and allow voluntary training for teams and agents.
  • July 5 (July 25) -- Sign undrafted rookies, as well as give free agents a chance to re-sign with their teams.
  • July 8 (July 28) -- League year starts and free agency begins.
  • July 13 (Aug. 2) -- Rosters must be set at 90 players.
  • July 14 (Aug. 3) -- Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
  • July 18 (Aug. 7 ) -- A four-day match period for teams to match restricted free-agent offer sheets.
  • July 23 (Aug 12) -- Deadline for rookies to sign contracts (not yet agreed upon).
  • July 27 (Aug. 16) -- Signing period for restricted free agents ends, as does the signing period for franchise and transition tenders.
  • Aug. 9 (Aug. 29) -- Deadline for players to report to earned credit for an accrued season toward free agency.

This is all assuming that we actually get a handshake agreement and that the Owners actually ratify it.  There seems to be a tenuous feeling of hope that this is going to happen, but of course we can't possibly know anything for sure.  The current deal requires the rookie wage scale to be cut in half in terms of dollar amounts.  Owners are tired of paying top dollar for unproven players, many of whom turn out to be busts.  Actually, many veteran players feel the same way.  How would you feel if you had been doing a job very well for the last five years and some new guy who's never even done the same job as you gets hired off the street for more money than you make?  The lack of a rookie wage scale/cap was ridiculous.  The real issue here is the length of contracts for rookies.  The players want to keep those at four years and the owners want them to go longer. They are squabbling now about the details of how to make that work.  

I just wonder which side will have the bigger black eye once all is said and done.  Once this CBA is actually put out in the world for all to see, it will become apparent very quickly which side seems to have 'won' this battle.  The press will jump on this like rabid wolves on a young Elk, they will tear it limb from limb looking for answers to that question.  

For My part, I have supported the owners more so than the players in this.  It is my opinion that they players are the ones who pushed the button throwing this thing into nuclear winter to begin with.  Player salaries will always be a sensitive issue, but it has to be one that the owners control when it comes to overall profitability of the league.  How many times have we heard the statement, "Nobody in the NFL wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs"?  The owners share this sentiment with the players.  One thing is for sure, both sides know where the butter for their bread comes from.  The fact that the owners had made plans to lose a season should tell you how serious they were about making changes to this CBA.  Business is, afterall, Business.  You can't continue operations without profits and the owners saw that writing on the wall.  Pointing to the Jerry Jones's and the Bob Kraft's of the league to make the case that teams are lying about the profit mantra is fallacy.  The clubs in the league are as one when it comes to profits because of the revenue sharing.  They made the only decision (opting out of the CBA) that they reasonably could make for the future of their respective franchises. The profit sea must make all boats rise and that means that the larger market ones do have the potential to make even more. 

For those that want to point to the owners opting out of the CBA as the reason for this mess, just remember this, the lockout came after the decertification and lawsuit--not the other way around.  Opting out was written into the last CBA (and agreed to by the way by both sides) for just this purpose.  Exercising that option was no ploy, it was a straight forward signal that things had to change.  The owners were at the table waiting for the players all the way through.  The players are the ones that decided to step away and enter the self destruct code.

The players, for their part, had over two years to discuss how to make these changes and instead, chose to stick out their collective tongues at the owners time and again.  They were not negotiating, they shut down and began preparing for war by hiring their own attack dog lawyer.  When they were approached over this matter, they just said they were only interested in leaving things the way they were.  It is going to be very interesting to see just what kind of deal gets brokered. If it goes heavily in the owners favor, as is now the case being speculated, those same players need to ask themselves if they could have gotten a better deal if they had sat down and talked meaningfully with the owners way back there when there was more than enough time to arm wrestle over the details.

To have gone so far afield as to actually decertify the union and initiate law suits against the owners just seems beyond the pale when you consider that this fight was about money.  Remember that.  This was not some monumental case about workers rights.  Hell, this wasn't even about reducing take home dollars for the players.  This was about sharing revenues. The reactionary move of decertifying the union was, in this instance, akin to buying a new car when the the one you have just needs new tires.  Make no mistake here, the players didn't do this all alone.  They took some bad advice.  They made the choice of going out and getting a heavy hitter of a lawyer to represent them that had never played a down in the NFL. Something about that kind of screams 'bad choice'. The lawyers are a necessary evil to be sure, but somebody who knows the game needed to hold that leash. 

Gene Upshaw got a great deal on behalf of the NFLPA, not because he was a lawyer, but because he was an insider who knew how to negotiate.  Is it surprising that no progress of any merit was made in this case until the lawyers were told to stay home?  DeMaurice Smith can be the best lawyer in the world, but that has little to do with the owners and the players understanding what it's like to run teams and play the greatest game on earth. The only good thing about this is that maybe, now that the players know that lockouts will be allowed, they won't try anymore of this litigious drawing of lines in the dirt (see the insert below about 'certifying' the class in the class action).  The players have talked for years about how this legal ploy was in their back pocket as their last resort if they needed it.  In fact, some even bragged about it.  Well, Wild Bill, ya played the ace up yer sleeve and it didn't work.  What next?

Will we play football or won't we?  If you believe the talking heads it looks increasingly like we will, but nobody is guaranteeing anything quite yet.  There are still several hurdles to clear and anyone of them could take a deal right off the table.  Not the least of which are reports like these from actual players concerning the pundits recent elation about a deal being so close.

"All that is hype coming from the owners side to try and put pressure on us to do a deal," an unnamed player told Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, as Rosenthal pointed out Monday.  "They want to make us look bad.  It's simply not true.  There is a lot of work to be done.  They are not close.  Consider where that information is coming from, it's the owners.  Their reason is to try and create all this false hope to put more pressure on us."

The unnamed player added that he'll be "shocked" if a deal is completed within the next 10 days.

On top of that, there is some concern about what is currently going on with the pending class action Tom Brady et al lawsuit. Jeff Kessler is playing the role of the players Frodo Baggins by carrying on with this lawsuit (the NFL ring of power as it were) beyond sensibility and saftey with the apparent ultimate intention of destroying that ring of power by throwing it in the cracks of Mount Doom (Judge Susan Nelson's courtroom).  The players lawyers are pushing Judge Nelson to 'certify' the class in this class action in an effort to preserve the players option of decertifying in the future.  Per Mike Florio at PFT:

It could be that the players' lawyers, led by Jeffrey Kessler and Jim Quinn (pictured), are using the certification process as leverage to get the league to agree to permit the players to pull the same maneuver in the future, with the use of language that makes it easier to decertify and sue before the expiration of the CBA.  Or it could be that Kessler and Quinn are pushing certification since it would delay the process, making it more likely that the players will opt to permit Kessler and Quinn to pursue that $12 billion antitrust verdict, which can happen only if a full season is missed.    

Is lining the lawyers pockets really in the best interest of football?  It would seem that the owners will never agree to leaving these loose ends laying about out there.  If Frodo ends victorious as in the Lord Of The Rings movies, it might just derail the season.  Middle earth will be saved again, but the NFL as we know it could be destroyed.

Then there are the concerns about the quality of a season where games are lost and ample time is not taken for preseason activities.  Consider that the players are getting more out of shape with each passing day.  When exactly was the last report of practice sessions?  June what?  Oh don't worry, these players are professionals and keeping themselves in shape is just a given--right, and I have a few acres of swampland in Arizona for sale.  Given the state of the players and the possibility of this thing dragging on and on, the preseason (if there is one) should be a real scream.  If there isn't a preseason, the first few games of the season will look like a Keystone Kops movie.  I hope the punters are in shape, they're going to be busy.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, WILL we have football this fall?  Upon further review, the answer today is the exact same answer we've had since March 11.  WHO KNOWS?  "Oh", you say, "What about the transition rules"?  Surely that means that things are on track, right?  A curious tweet might just give you second thoughts.

An interesting tweet from The NY Daily News this morning - basically calling out the NFL for having a contingency plan to play a partial season if the CBA isn't resolved by the end of the month.

via TheBlueScreen twitter feed:

Report says NFL could have new agreement by July 21, open FA on July 28.

...

Always read the fine print. Same report says the NFL has a transition plan in place just in case the new CBA isn't done until ... October.

What are we to think about this? Is this ‘just in case' or is this a likelihood?

Good question.  Unfortunately, answers are just as scarce on July 11th as they were on March 11th.  Back then all the smart money was on having a season because it "wasn't even June yet" so nothing was at risk.  Funny, June has come and gone and now the preseason is at risk.  Will the smart money keep blindly saying the same thing until the money is forfeit?  At some point the smart money changes it's tune.  There are so many moving parts of this train, it truly boggles the mind when trying to figure out if it's forward momentum can be slowed enough to be diverted to the side track of a 2011 football season. For all we really know, we could be a hair's breadth from where the NHL was in 2004 when last ditch efforts were made and failed.  The owners are said to be determined to have a deal to ratify on the 21st of this month.  You have to wonder just how much the players care about the owners level of 'determination'.  

First it was June, then it was the fourth of July, next came July 15th, most recently July 17th (what a joke--none of these guys work on Sundays in the off season) and now we're being told July 21st for ratification and July 28th for start of season.  Or maybe October if you are into tweeting.  Are these dates just being foisted on us because the 'media' (who definitely have a vested and hopeful interest) know that they're about all that's left if we are to have a 'normal' season?  Or are we to believe the coaches who say they have been told by their front offices that camps will open on time and only the Hall of Fame game will be sacrificed?  What happens when we hit August 1st and we are still being bombarded with stories about how close yet how far the two sides are to/from an agreement? Will the first week of preseason games then fall by the wayside, unnoticed in the frenzy to assure everyone that the season will be played in totality? 

More questions without answers.  Believe it when you see the first kickoff.  Until then, don't abandon your plans for bake sales at church on Sunday's this fall. It could still end up as the only game in town.

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