Happy Friday, friends, and welcome to another edition of You Got Served. There’s been a semi-interesting development in the labor front, and I owe you a Vegas debrief too, whether you want one or not. In between, we’ll talk some football in advance of the approaching Draft. Armed with a lighter checking account, iTunes on shuffle rocking some Aimee Mann, (One is the loneliest number) and the Will to Dominate, we proceed. Ready…. BEGIN!!!
1. I’m not a lawyer, thank Baptist god, and I’ve never played one on television. Mostly in my TV experiences, I’ve competed in spelling bees, glared menacingly at a camera guy while carrying trash off the Spruance following a hurricane sortie, or given a politically incorrect opinion or six. All the sort of stuff you’d expect from a guy like me. As a non-lawyer, I’m often left to speculate on legal matters which pertain to football, because there aren’t a lot of football writers who are admitted to the bar. I had a pretty high Wonderlic score when I applied for a job at Progressive a few years ago, so I just kind of trust that, and wing it.
When word came out last weekend that Judge Susan Nelson was going to order a return to mediation, I was sitting on the toilet in my room at Harrah’s, trying to be quiet while the other three drunks in the room snored loudly. Given that I was in the thinkspot, and I had some time, I gave it a think.
First things first (man, you’re #$%#ing with the worst, I be sticking pins in your head like a #$%#ing nurse), how does a non-bargaining trade union bargain? The NFL’s claim is that the NFLPA remains a bargaining unit, and that their decertification was a sham. That’s their basis that Judge Nelson should rule against enjoining the lockout. If she’s ordering the NFLPA to return to mediation, does that somehow foreshadow that she agrees with the NFL?
I don’t think so, after giving this a good bit of consideration. First of all, I’d be shocked if she rules that way, because the NFLPA is well within its rights to decertify under the National Labor Relations Act. Any organized group of employees can, at any time, if it feels that the result of its union’s efforts to bargain on its behalf falls short of the expectations of the members. All it takes is 50% of the members voting to decertify, which definitionally means that 50% + 1 couldn’t have voted to certify, or remain certified. Of course, every team’s group of players unanimously voted to authorize decertification.
In the absence of a relationship with a union, the NFL isn’t able to lock out individuals, and they’re open to being sued under antitrust law. Remember, and this has been repeatedly gotten wrong by the football MSM, the NFL has no discrete antitrust exemption, beyond the one that was tangentially granted to them by virtue of a non-statutory labor exemption. A union can’t be investigated under antitrust law, and no agreement that management enters into with a union is therefore also subject to investigation. The merits of the decertification question are pretty clearly with the NFLPA.
Even beyond that, though, the fact that the negotiation is occurring in Minneapolis is telling. What it’s telling me is that it’s a settlement negotiation, not a collective bargaining negotiation. I know that’s a seemingly minor distinction, but I think it actually foreshadows an injunction being granted.
Remember - the NFLPA decertified in the late 1980s and filed a set of antitrust suits that it eventually won. The resulting settlement, which was supervised by Judge David Doty, became the basis of the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which lasted 18 years, with minor tweaks.
Today, the negotiations were attended by Mike Vrabel and Ben Leber, who are both named plaintiffs in the lawsuits. They were joined by DeMaurice Smith, who is an attorney. This is not the same thing as what was going on at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, DC.
Well, there is one similarity. It’s going to be a giant navel-gazing exercise, where no progress is made, until Judge Nelson rules on the injunction. She explicitly stated that the order to return to negotiating didn’t represent a stay on that question, and that it would be ruled upon in due course. I figure that that means the end of next week.
The decision about injunction, followed by the certain appeal is the big domino here. If the players lose, it will be catastrophic for them. The owners will basically be free to play this long as a war of attrition, and the players will eventually be forced to take an unfavorable deal. While I don’t expect that to be the result, the NFL’s lawyer, David Boies, is one of the very best and most prominent litigators in the world. He was Al Gore’s lawyer in Bush v. Gore, and while he couldn’t get any of five Republican Justices to vote to allow the recount to continue in Florida (who would want to make sure we had the count right?), he was impressive up to that point. More recently, he teamed with Ted Olson, who was Dubya’s lead attorney in Bush v. Gore, and was later his Solicitor General, and got California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage overturned. Check out Boies’ Wikipedia page; he’s been involved with a ton of big-time cases.
In any case, nothing real is going to happen until we do or do not have an injunction. That’s going to ultimately determine who holds the leverage, as we’ve been saying for a month. Motions will be gone through, words will be exchanged, and I think that the posturing will be minimized, because nobody particularly wants to piss off a federal judge who has binding authority to order a lot of different things.
I’ll be ready to add more whenever Judge Nelson rules on the injunction, and/or Judge Doty rules on damages in the previously discussed television deal, which could also swing some leverage, if the NFL is ordered to pay the NFLPA a bunch of money for violating the CBA. For now, plan on the continuation of a charade, and a return to radio silence about the matter from IAOFM’s legal department.
2. If I were in charge of a draft, I would rarely ever allow a year to go by where I didn’t pick a lineman of some sort in the first three rounds. If you think about it, linemen make up 9 or 10 of your 22 starting positions, so it behooves you to keep new talent coming through that part of the team.
On the defensive line, teams almost all play rotations, and you need 9 or 10 quality bodies to accomplish that. It’s hard for a defensive lineman to physically do what he’s asked to do 70 snaps a game, so keeping your best ones to around 45 plays and the backups to around 25 is the optimal approach. You don’t want to get blown away on those 25 snaps with the backups in, so it’s crucial to have solid depth there.
On the offensive line, it’s different. You generally only ever play your five starters unless somebody gets hurt. Because you’re not asking offensive guys to do such explosive things, stamina is less of an issue, and technique is more of one. By drafting O-linemen highly very often, you can keep solid talent coming through your system and then coaching them up. You have somebody to step in if there’s an injury and to replace a guy who eventually leaves via free agency.
If you have a lot of good linemen, they’re all eventually going to want to be overpaid. This is the main reason to stock up on these guys, because at some point you’re going to want to let half to two-thirds of them walk in free agency. That will bring back compensatory draft picks, which can then be leveraged into adding more talent to your program.
Of course, you have to be able to keep the same philosophy going for a number of years. Football teams get themselves in trouble by resetting their programs too often, and it’s really self-defeating. The Broncos are going through that now, having flushed two years of the McDaniels way and starting off in a whole new direction with their three-headed monster.
The consistently successful franchises, like New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh keep the offensive and defensive line talent coming, because they believe both in their scouting protocols and their ability to coach up players. Since they’re not constantly cutting the last coach’s guys, they’re not filling a million holes.
Here’s hoping that the Broncos can get a stable program in place and then start drafting to strength on both lines, so that they can maintain a long period of success. There’s a really high correlation to drafting linemen highly and winning consistently.
3. Doug linked to this Dan Pompei piece in today's Lard about whether veteran players should have any input on player acquisition. I have an answer; no, they definitely shouldn’t. You can acquire intelligence from them, like, hey, you played for Joe Offensive Line Coach at Wherever. What did you think of him? There’s nothing wrong with that.
If you start letting players think that they have bearing on organizational decisions, though, you’re asking for a lot of trouble. I find it really funny that Pompei, who is a Bears guy in his day job, cites Jay Cutler’s input on the Mike Martz hiring. A large reason that Cutler is a Bear is because Josh McDaniels immediately tried to show Cutler that players aren’t organizational decision-makers, and Cutler reacted really poorly to that concept.
You may be getting tired of me citing the Patriots, but they’re the gold standard for prolonged success at sticking to a program, and the primary reason for their success is that their superstar QB is a team guy who realizes that he’s a player, and that a lot of things happen above his paygrade. Tom Brady has said he was mad when Lawyer Milloy and Deion Branch were let go, and he disagreed with both decisions, but he realized that both were beyond his control.
Like longtime Giants GM George Young always said, players play, coaches coach, and scouts scout. In a strong organization, everybody knows their role. I’m a very strong performer at work, but if I started going around unduly injecting myself into matters that weren’t my business, people would get tired of me and my act pretty quickly. It would be bad for office chemistry, and I'd eventually get canned for being more trouble than I was worth. Smart NFL teams similarly tell players to have a Coke and smile, and stick to being a player.
4. JaMarcus Russell continues to make me facepalm myself. I’m the guy who saw him look good in a preseason game once and declared that he was making strides toward being a successful NFL QB. A small part of me has been hoping that he’d get another chance somewhere, dedicate himself, and make something of his enormous talent. Then I could somehow mitigate the personal ignominy I feel, and say “LOOK – he really can play!” Now, though, even the relentlessly positive John Lucas has given up on the guy. I’d have to say that that’s finally the death knell. Keep drinking that drank, JaMarcus, if you can summon the motivation to raise it to your lips.
5. So, yeah, Vegas. This was my fifth visit, with my sixth coming on May 21 for my longtime friend Tony Orsini’s bachelor party. (Tony’s my dude back in Norwich, CT, who has the turkey bowl that I’ve driven back a couple times for; we’ve been friends since we were like 12, so I couldn’t remotely see blowing it off.)
Anyway, I don’t want to go all Bill Simmons on you, but I have some observations to share, because I imagine that you all care what I think about stuff. Even if you don’t, this is like the bonus on a free product, so feel free to imagine it was never even here.
a. Vegas is a totally different experience depending upon who you go with. My first trip was in 2005 with my ex-wife, and it entailed a lot of walking around, shopping, sightseeing, and a Cirque du Soleil show, with very minimal drinking or gambling. It was funnish, but it was my least fun trip. My second trip was with my brother Chris and his friends for his bachelor party. That was a lot more stripper-centric than anything. The last three trips have been with various combinations of fraternity brothers, and we always seem to take a very full-Vegas-experience approach to our trips. Gambling, strippers, golf, a ton of drinking, checking out attractions like the Bellagio fountain and Fremont St, and this year, even eating at a nice restaurant or two.
b. New term of the weekend: Capital One Girls. A Capital One Girl is that single chick who works in your office, maybe as an assistant HR generalist, or something. She goes to Vegas with some friends, maybe a nurse’s aide, a teacher, and a social worker. Something like that. It’s a girl trip, and all that entails.
What that mainly entails, if you’ve never been to Vegas, is each of these ladies buying one or two $1,000 dresses on their Capital One credit cards, getting all done up, and acting like they’re something special and glamorous. Heterosexual men don’t do this, of course. We probably bring some nice clothes, but we don’t buy new ones especially for a trip to Vegas. Our money ultimately ends up getting lost on the tables, or in some stripper's garter.
Anyway, the Capital One Girls get gussied up, and then they go out to a club, find some douchebag guys who spent $1,000 on a bottle of Grey Goose and a table, and they latch on until the vodka is gone. Then they move on to some other guys with their own bottle. It’s good sport, this vodka drinking and table hopping. We’re hot stuff, girls.
The thing to remember, of course, is these are regular chicks who’ll be back in Iowa on Monday, screening resumes for typos. Don’t fall for their trifling game like some kind of rookie, and just laugh at the thought of them paying 28% interest on those dresses for the next two years.
c. The best sports book on the strip is the Bellagio, which is funny, because I really can’t afford to do anything else there. On a peak night, the minimum table is probably $25, but the sports book is where it’s at. You can sit in comfortable leather chairs with your boys and bet a $2 horse race here and there, and they keep the free drinks coming, in large rocks glasses, especially if you tip the waitress semi-generously. Good deal, right?
One thing I don’t recommend doing is what I did last Sunday. We went to the Bellagio around 5 PM, and I was pretty tired. I hadn’t slept more than four hours in any night, and I was trying to make it to midnight, because I had a 7:40 AM flight home on Monday morning. I ordered a Red Bull and vodka (the official drink of Vegas), and kept them coming until I put down about eight of them in an hour and a half.
We were betting horse races at Mountaineer Racetrack, which actually isn’t too far from Cleveland. Who cares that none of us know anything about horses? We were dominating free drinks. Well, there’s like 15 minutes between races, and I was dozing off, despite all my Red Bull. I decided to go back to the room and take a nap, but when I got out in the fresh air, the Red Bull hit me all at once, and I felt like my heart was going to explode for about the next three hours. It eventually calmed down, and I finished my trip with a really nice late dinner in a restaurant called Canaletto at the Venetian, and had the Tagliatele Alla Castellana with a nice Riesling, but it was a little scary getting there. The smart play is to go off the Red Bull after like two of them, you heard?
The alternative to the Italian joint was going to Hooters Casino, formerly known as the San Remo. I strenuously objected, because I think that Hooters sucks anyway (it departed the Cleveland market, because of its local suckitude), but the casino is just atrocious. The worst feature of it is a Dan Marino restaurant, which is pretty expensive, and very, very awful. Three years ago, we stayed at the nearby Tropicana, and I was subjected to Marino’s hellhole twice, because dudes were too lazy to go anywhere else. This time, it wasn’t happening.
d. We played golf at a nice course called Silverstone Golf Club, which is about 20 miles northeast of the Strip. It's a desert course in the shadow of some mountains, so it was really different than anywhere I've ever played here in Cleveland. We paid $99 for 18 holes, carts, club rentals, and lunch, all-inclusive, and it was well worth it. We got lost due to sucky performance by the iPhone's navigation system and were 10 minutes late for our tee time, but the place was cool about it - probably because the course wasn't very busy. If you're looking for a nice but reasonably-priced course in the Vegas area, Silverstone is the way to go.
That's all I have for this week, friends. I should be back in full effect early next week with another serving. Have a great weekend.