There are dates that live in infamy in NFL history. Most are good. Some are bad. March 11, 2011 falls into the latter – perhaps in a big way. It was already a tragic day that had itself burned into history, as one of the most horrific earthquakes in recorded history hit Japan. 3-11-11 was going to be a date people remember before this. But, in a much less significant way, March 11 is going to be remembered as a dark day in NFL history.
With hopes growing that another negotiating extension could be reached between the NFL and its players association, Black Friday hit with a vengeance. Within a matter of hours, the NFL made a last offer, which was rejected by the NFLPA. The NFPLA ceased to exist. Empowered to decertify its union, the NFLPA transformed itself into a “professional trade association.” A Minneapolis courtroom became Ground Zero of the NFL universe for five minutes with Ben Leber and Brian Robison serving as a supporting actors in a courtroom drama headlined by A-listers like Peyton Manning.
The dominoes began falling at that point and the league is officially without a labor agreement of any kind for the first time since before any of the players that are going to be drafted next month have been alive.
When the clock struck midnight on the East Coast, the CBA expired and the owners announced a lockout. And, after keeping silent until Drew Brees used Twitter to tell everyone Friday morning that a deal wasn’t going to get done even though they still had seven-plus hours of negotiating wiggle room – effectively saying unless they’re willing to keep the deal effectively the same as it is now, they weren’t going to budge – the NFL went on the offensive.
The players fired the first shot with the filing of court papers in federal court in Minneapolis –welcome back to the sporting spotlight – including Leber, who puts himself in a precarious position as a pending free agent looking for one of the owners to sign him. The players who are going to get some catchy nickname like the Titanic 10 – Titanic as in huge and heroic, not the boat – are Brees, Manning, Tom Brady, Leber, Robison (see below), Vincent Jackson, Logan Mankins, Osi Umenyiora, Mike Vrabel and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller (see even more below).
The NFL officially locked out players when the CBA expired, leaving them to their own devices for training, dealing with injuries, etc. until a new deal is hammered out. In reality, the NFL officially shut down. With no union, they have no product and, in an era of union busting, they are standing firm … for now.
In a shockingly forthcoming statement, the NFL, which likes to keep its organizational finances, contracts, and trademarks on the down-low and a need-to-know basis, told its fans what it offered to the players. It morphed from a La Cosa Nostra code of silence to Cecil Newton with a couple a cocktails down in a New York (office) minute.
One of the lines in the sand that litigants in a court case know will draw the ire of the other side is to let the public know what they put on the table. The Timberwolves did that with Kevin Garnett when Kevin McHale went on the radio to spill the beans that K.G. was willing to turn down a $100 million contract.
The NFL wanted to get something back. The players want none of it. They have solidified their case for having more of their long-term health interests addressed through the recent league catharsis that older players have become a scientific subset of the population. The league has taken extreme precautions during the current CBA due to head injuries to players. The evidence is too overwhelming to deny. But, the NFL made its offer, which it laid out in detail with the following statement:
“The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes being subject to approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).”
Break it down point by point. The billion dollars currently taken off the top by owners before revenue sharing would be cut in half, but $500 million would still come off the top before the players get their 50 percent taste. Owners would still promise to spend the same amount of money, just pushing it to contracts of proven talent rather than unproven rookies – which makes sense for owners, but won’t vastly increase free-agent contracts, just give them more money to shoot and miss on hired guns like Terrell Owens. Only first-round draft picks will get hurt under the new system. Team doctors will continue to be the choice for opinions on player health, even in the offseason. The league won’t add two more games (once viewed as a negotiation deal-breaker) for at least two years.
The biggest (only real?) positive from the league’s mea culpa was the promise to establish funds to deal with players in later life that have seen the quality of their lives diminished due to their loyalty to the NFL and playing football. $82 million is a nice start, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to make things right for those who paved the way for the current and future players.
Friday is going to be remembered for decades to come, even in NFL parlance. Both sides claim that they intend to push for a resolution, but harken back to a Thursday night in New Orleans when two of the NFC favorites – the Saints and the Vikings – met in the Superdome to start the 2010 season. Players from both teams marched onto the field and raised their arms in solidarity. They knew it was coming. The owners knew it was coming. It’s here.
Dig in for a long fight.
One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to assume that the inclusion of Miller in the lawsuit could be a critical component of the NFL’s fight. Whether you refer to it as a union or a professional trade association, until Miller signs a contract with the NFL, he’s not a member of the association. In NFL terms, he’s nothing more than a prospect. If the suit was filed on behalf of all 10 as a group and not individually, there may be the chance that the decertification wasn’t legally achieved.
Miller has been a player we at VU have been having trouble with in our mock drafts. We could justify him going as high as No. 3 in the draft, but, as a litigant, we may find out where ownership stands when it comes to his draft spot. Would teams want to hire somebody who sued the company before he even had a job with it? Miller could drop like a stone of draft day if owners want to draw their own line in the sand.
The NFL’s official website has apparently been told to stay neutral in discussion about the decertification/lockout. While everyone else is taking a pretty strong opinion one way or the other, the headline on the league’s website was titled “Agree to Disagree.”
If the court case proceeds as expected, Minneapolis will become a hot place to be for national media types, TMZ types and celebrity gawkers alike. Tom Brady, for example, may actually have to show up in court. That will give Giselle Bundchen fans a chance to see her. In fact, it might help her acting career to be seen accompanying her man to court to fight for employee rights. Who couldn’t sympathize a grim-faced Giselle standing by her husband as they face poverty … oh, wait.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.