More thoughts on the CBA

Happy Tuesday, friends.  I have fairly limited writing time today, so I am going to write something that is the length of a standard blog post.  There has been some hand-wringing the last couple days about the CBA negotiations, despite the fact that nothing seems to be likely to hold up progress on a deal. 

Doug shared a link in today’s Lard indicating that teams are already advising players to show up on Friday and Saturday, which is the surest sign yet that a deal is inevitable, and will happen very soon.  Yet, for some reason, on Sirius XM NFL Radio, the topic of the last couple days has relentlessly been something like What If Vincent Jackson/Logan Mankins/Osi Umenyiora blow(s) up the deal for reasons of personal gain?

It’s making some people nervous, along with reports that the players are still trying to get more money from the owners, to wit, the $320 million of foregone benefits from 2010.  Given that there are still so many owner fanboys (that article endlessly cracks me up, so I keep linking it) out there, many of whom have a skewed perception of how negotiations work, with the problem being exacerbated by NFL reporters who really are missing and misunderstanding a lot, I decided that I’d address this with a few thoughts.

1.  By their nature, negotiations are always about give and take.  For a time, until some court rulings played out, this was not a real negotiation.  Lately, after the Eighth Circuit handed down a ruling that would hurt the players a little, and the owners a lot, negotiations finally got real.  (I had a smartass comment all lined up about the federal debt ceiling negotiation political theater, but I spiked it, lest people think I pay attention to anything but football.  We wouldn't want that...)

I’m not interested in who won or lost this CBA negotiation, and I never have been.  It’s irrelevant to why we’re all here, which is to enjoy the game of football.  For the last four months, the owner-imposed lockout has threatened to cause games, or even the 2011 season, to be missed.  Strictly for that reason, I was in favor of the lockout being ended, because it was the one thing that was preventing football from happening.

Now, it appears certain that the lockout will be lifted, most likely on Friday morning.  The NFLPA will most likely hold a vote on Wednesday, and the owners will vote on Thursday at their meeting in Atlanta.  Evidently, 90 minutes after ratification, the teams will commence a labor seminar for the rest of Thursday, into Friday, where operating rules will be discussed, and teams will be made ready to operate in the new environment. 

I say that the lockout is likely to end Friday morning, because the lockout can be lifted at any time, by order of the owners.  That is, a fully signed and executed CBA doesn’t need to be in place for it to happen.  If there’s an agreement in principle, the small details can continue to be worked on in the coming days, (such as the NLRB approving the recertification of the NFLPA as a union, for example), and the owners can effectively impose work rules that exactly match those in the looming CBA, in the temporary absence of that finalized CBA.

That action will keep the NFL moving toward having a full preseason and will allow teams to get their players into their facilities, begin doing medical evaluations, issue playbooks and equipment, and other logistical challenges that teams will want to take care of before they have to devote all of their energies to the signing season.

2.  As for the named plaintiffs in the antitrust suits, that is admittedly an interesting dynamic, in that for the suit to be settled and dismissed, each individual would need to agree to settle it.  Mankins and Jackson individually don’t want to be franchised again, and I think it would be very easy to say, OK, we won’t franchise you.  There’s a report out this morning that the two players want to be individually guaranteed $10 million on top of their franchise tags if they’re franchised again.  That sounds like a pretty effective poison pill to me.

Umenyiora wants to get out from under a six-year contract that he signed four years ago and which is admittedly team-friendly.  He’s reportedly seeking an assurance from the Giants that either his deal will be redone or that he’ll be traded.  That seems harder to do, but with the leadership that John Mara has shown in this process, I can see some accommodation being made, even if it’s in a handshake kind of way.

As much as the narrative has been about individual plaintiffs scuttling a deal for their own benefit, I think it’s fair to also ask if the NFL would actually be willing to scuttle the entire deal to prevent those few players from benefiting in a really small-potatoes way.  Remember, this is a large and far-reaching negotiation, and everybody who has had any leverage at all has tried to use it to gain for their own side.  As with everything else, a reasonable answer will be found. 

3.  Sayre at MHR’s thoughts notwithstanding, nobody is trying to expressly ruin the progress on this CBA.  These minor ongoing settlement negotiations are expected, and I’m pretty certain that all major elements of a new agreement are already generally agreed-upon.  Trust me, if there was as much as $320 million really still outstanding, that would be a major negotiation point, and the whole thing wouldn’t be in the hands of the lawyers only, sitting in a conference room, writing language.  There would still be principals sitting at a table and hashing it out - I guarantee that. 

The $320 million and the lockout insurance matters have to be substantially resolved at this point, or there’s no way that teams would be telling players to show up at work on Friday.  Nobody has told Jason La Canfora yet specifically how those pieces will play out, since agents aren’t direct principals to this process, so it seems likely to me that he’s selling the story for dramatic headline effect. 

These headlines also help the players claim to the world, and, more importantly, to their rank and file, that they negotiated tooth-and-nail to the very end.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is the part of all labor negotiations where management completely stops posturing and lets labor run wild with it to claim total victory.  It’s much easier to get 24 out of 32 owners to ratify a deal which they’ve each had a significant personal say in than it is to get a majority of 2,000 players to agree, especially when many no doubt feel under-represented at the table.

4.  To Michael Silver’s point about recertification being optional, and remaining as an outstanding negotiation point, it isn’t.  He fundamentally misunderstands what’s going on here, because a trade association can’t enter into a CBA - only a union can.  What that means is that by even having a CBA negotiation, everybody understands that the union will be recertified, thus granting the NFL the non-statutory labor exemption that it needs in order to legally operate as a cartel.  Silver's sources may be right that recertification hasn't been expressly discussed, but if they are, that's because it doesn't really need to be.  It's a question of eventual mechanics and timing, and not whether it happens or not.

Silver is correct that DeMaurice Smith said in May that he thought the players might be best served in not recertifying, but that path would have been different than this one.  Under that path, the play would have been to wait for the lockout to be declared illegal by Judge Susan Nelson.  Notably, the Eighth Circuit didn’t say the lockout was legal, only that a federal judge couldn’t enjoin a labor action, due to the Norris-LaGuardia Act.  That basically sent the case back to Nelson and left her free to declare the lockout to be illegal, which it pretty clearly was, and in so doing, to hold the owners liable for damages to players who are under contract, with payouts at three times the salaries foregone due to missed games.

That would have likely had the effect of convincing the owners to lift the lockout before any regular season games or player paychecks were missed, and to then impose work rules and operate without a CBA, as the NFL did between 1987 and 1993, while fighting the litigation in federal court.  Smith’s point was that by running ongoing antitrust suits over a period of years, the players could gain more for themselves in the long term.  That’s an entirely different path than what has happened in the last month, though.

5.  Finally, I had occasion to watch NFL Total Access last night, and I completely agree with Michael Lombardi that the Hall of Fame Game shouldn’t be in any real danger of not happening yet.  He made the point that NFL staffs get college kids ready to play the Senior Bowl with one week of preparation, and that the HOF Game could work very similarly with really scaled-back schemes, and come off just fine.  I miss Lombardi writing as much as he used to at National Football Post, but he’s still bringing insight to the table on television.

That’s all I have for today, friends.  Check me out on Friday, which you of course will do as part of your daily visit to our site.  We’re working hard to bring you the best Broncos coverage anywhere, and we appreciate your joining us each day.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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