Washington, D.C. – Looks like all that optimism engendered last week from the two extensions to the deadline of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement has vanished into thin air.
Barring a last-minute breakthrough, these talks will end in failure tomorrow, with the NFL now bracing for its first work stoppage in more than two decades.
For the first time since a month-long players strike in 1987, the league and the players association appear headed down a path that could see a sequence of dramatic events by the end of tomorrow. After talks in front of a federal mediator ended today on the verge of collapse, and with both sides sniping at one another in public, the stage is now set for the union to decertify and essentially dissolve itself in preparation for a legal battle against the league.
After a decertification, the owners are then expected to institute a lockout, which could end up shutting down the league for the foreseeable future. If that scenario materializes, the players would then ask Minnesota-based federal judge David Doty for a temporary injunction that would prevent the league from locking the players out.
There’s still a chance that the 2011 season will be played, but it remains to be seen how the legal maneuverings will affect the league. In fact, it may be several months before team executives and players will know when – or even whether – games will be played.
In addition to those legal machinations, prominent quarterbacks Drew Brees of the Saints, Peyton Manning of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots have agreed to act as plaintiffs in antitrust legislation against the league. The last time there was a similar lawsuit, former Eagles defensive end Reggie White, who also played for the Packers, won his case and helped create the current system of unrestricted free agency.
NFL and union officials met today for a 15th day before mediator George Cohen, but they didn’t make any progress on any of the key issues, including how to share $9 billion in revenues, the establishment of an 18-game regular season, and a rookie wage scale. If anything, the sides drifted further apart, and the day ended with acrimonious comments from the chief negotiators from both camps.
Attorney Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief negotiator, and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith traded barbs, with each charging the other with failing to show adequate resolve in negotiations.
“I’ve said it many times: If both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done. I don’t know if both sides have an equal commitment,” Pash said.
Asked if the NFL had that commitment, Pash said: “Obviously we have the commitment. No question about it.” And the union? “I’m not suggesting anything about the other side. I’m saying if there’s an equal commitment on both sides, there’s a deal to be made.”
Smith, who was on his way home when he heard Pash’s comments, turned around and drove back to the building where the negotiations were held to address reporters.
“I think it’s important that everyone know the commitment of our players to this process,” Smith said. “We’re committed to this process. We have been committed to this process. But for anyone to stand and turn to the American people and say that they question that… Uh look. I understand that there’s probably some things that Jeff Pash has to say. When someone wants to stand up and say that he questions or doubts one party’s commitment to the negotiation process, all I would ask is to stick to the facts.”