Friday, June 3, 2011

NFL Update: Players May Need to Recalibrate

When I listened to DeMaurice Smith speak recently, he said "we are prepared for a lockout" and have been all along. If that's the case, today's events may not phase him. At the very least, they are not a surprise.

If you are an NFL player, today, on its face at least, didn't go so well.

The NFL and its players were in Appeals Court today arguing over the legality of the lockout. The players say the lockout isn't legal; the owners disagree.

You might remember that the Appeals Court converted a temporary stay (or suspension) of the ruling to lift the lockout into a longer one pending the resolution of today's bigger question - is the lockout is legal. When they made that ruling, the majority of the Court remarked that the NFL "has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits."

So the thinking was today the Appeals Court (or at least the majority of the 3 judges) would suggest that they are likely to maintain that position. And by all accounts, that's what happened. The majority of the Judges questioned the players pretty heavily on their position. That of course doesn't mean they will find against the players. Still, that together with the remark they made last time around that the NFL was likely to succeed, it's not unreasonable to put your money on the owners.

So what if the NFL owners win?

That would mean that the lockout would stay in place for an indefinite period of time (as long as the owners want basically). The players could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is doubtful it would accept the case, and even if it did, it wouldn't be heard for some time.

So all this means that if the NFL is successful, then the players may need to rethink their strategy. Do they dig their heels in and continue to resist the NFL's latest proposal or do they decide to offer up some further concessions.

If the players want to play, they will need to make concessions. Don't forget, the last time the owners signed a CBA, some owners didn't like it - at all. They don't want to sign another bad deal (in their eyes) that they will have to live with for a long time. So I expect the owners will continue to dig in their designer heels. Unlike the last time, they seem unlikely to bend in any meaningful way. So if they want to play, players may need to recalibrate their expectations.

The reasonable cutoff to have a full NFL season is around August 15. The season starts September 8, and teams need about 3 weeks to get ready. So stay tuned.

My feeling all along has been an agreement in principle will be reached sometime in mid/late July. I say that because there are fairly obvious areas of compromise and we are not dealing with a major overhaul of the NFL's business model like we had with the NHL in 2004-05 or like we are seeing with the NBA. This is just about splitting up the revenue pie. While of course not a trite issue, that may suggest that this case has a profile for settlement in the short term.

Oh yes - and don't forget half of the 1900 NFL players make $500,000 or less. They will want to play as they understand they have limited earning potential and careers. Their voices will be heard the closer we get to July 23rd, the first day of training camp.

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