NFLPA Plans To Decertify By Thursday To Pre-empt Lockout
Absent a "last-minute agreement that no one around football expects," the NFLPA "plans to decertify by Thursday in an effort to pre-empt an owners-generated lockout," according to sources cited by Mortensen & Schefter of ESPN.com. The NFL CBA states that the union "in effect must wait six months to decertify if it does it after" the CBA expires, which will occur at 11:59pm ET Thursday. If the union decertifies, it is "no longer a union, and the National Labor Relations Board loses its hold over the NFLPA." The owners are "expected to claim the decertification is a sham and challenge it in the NLRB." The union "already has obtained unanimous approval from players across the league to decertify, a process it undertook throughout last season and the union's executive committee reaffirmed that vote this past Tuesday to empower NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to take this action." The primary reason for decertification "would be to file for an injunction that, if granted, would prevent the owners from locking out the players" (ESPN.com, 2/28). In Boston, Greg Bedard reported decertification likely is "part of a strategy to get the NFL to budge off its economic demands before the CBA expires." A union source said that decertification "would only be used if there was no progress on the CBA and a lockout by the owners appeared certain" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/27). FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez noted decertification is "needed to ensure any CBA-related player lawsuits against the league would be heard under the jurisdiction of U.S. District Judge David Doty, who has long held jurisdiction over CBA legal decisions." That is a power that the NFL "would like to see end because of what the league has privately claimed is a pro-NFLPA stance by Doty" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/27). In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano wrote threatening to decertify is a "powerful weapon since Smith knows the NFLPA's one big victory over the NFL came after the union decertified in 1989" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/27).
TAKE IT TO THE COURTS: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole reported the NFLPA has approached several players "to become named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the league if the union decertifies before the Thursday deadline." Sources said that the union has approached players including Colts QB Peyton Manning, Saints QB Drew Brees, Patriots QB Tom Brady and Patriots G Logan Mankins, among others. Frank Bauer, who reps Mankins, said, "We're considering it." Cole wrote the "presence of players such as Manning, Brady and Brees, who is a member of the union's executive committee, is critical to putting pressure on the league and maintaining support for the union's cause." One player agent said, "The quarterbacks are crucial to this. The reason is that those guys are normally much more on management's side of things because they are so close to the coaches and the owners. For guys like Manning and Brees to step out and put their names on a lawsuit would be really important, especially for the rest of the rank-and-file of the league. The quarterbacks drive the league. The owners know that" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/25).
TALKS SET TO RESUME: In DC, Mark Maske noted negotiators for the NFL and the players' union are scheduled to meet at the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service in DC tomorrow, and "what happens over the following 72 hours or so promises to play a large role in shaping the future of the nation's most prosperous sport." FMCS Dir George Cohen will "continue to oversee the talks when they resume Tuesday." NFL owners are "scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday at a hotel near Dulles Airport," and the league and union "could agree to postpone the 11:59 p.m. deadline Thursday for a new deal if there's progress toward a settlement." That "likely would require movement toward a compromise on the league's proposal for the union to credit the owners with an additional $1 billion toward expenses before the players' portion of revenues would be calculated under a salary cap." If there is a lockout, the free agent market "wouldn't open as scheduled Friday," and "all free agent signings and trades would be put on hold." Coaches "wouldn't be permitted to have contact with players," and the league's drug-testing program for players "wouldn't be in effect" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/27).
NO END IN SIGHT: Smith met with player agents at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Friday, and in N.Y., Judy Battista cited several agents as saying that they expect the two sides to "agree to extend the deadline to continue negotiations." One agent who was present at the meeting said that he "sensed no urgency on either side to strike a deal now" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/26). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Vacchiano wrote the "general consensus of agents as they escaped the day-long meeting" seemed to be that a "lockout is coming, and it could be long." Smith "gave them few specifics on the mediated talks with the NFL, which continue in Washington on Tuesday, but most got the feeling the two sides were very far apart" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/27). SI.com's Don Banks wrote, "I'm convinced it's going to be a long standoff, after hearing a veteran agent say that ... Smith on Friday reported no progress on the three main issues that separate the two sides: 1) The size of the revenue split between players and owners, 2) the 18-game schedule debate, and 3) institution of a rookie wage scale." Banks added, "While any time spent with the two sides talking to one another directly is a positive, very little of consequence happened in the mediation sessions, and I wouldn't be holding my breath for progress when the union and the league reconvene" (SI.com, 2/25). SI.com's Peter King wrote after "talking to club officials, coaches, a couple of agents and some players" at the NFL Combine, "I hear a lot more pessimism than optimism." King: "This much is clear from taking the temperature of football people here: I expect this job action to last well into the summer" (SI.com, 2/25). Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said if they go past this week's deadline and the NFLPA "decertifies, then it's a game of chicken until September when you start missing games" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/27).
WHO'S GOING TO BLINK FIRST? Indiana Univ. School of Law Dean Gary Roberts said neither Smith nor NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "can afford politically to blink first." Roberts: "Both Goodell and Smith got their jobs because they appeal to the hard-line elements among them. They can't afford even the perception that they're soft or making the big concessions." Roberts added that "pressure is on Goodell" because the owners feel former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue "'gave away the store' when the current CBA was reached in 2006." Roberts added that Smith also is "in a difficult position, having been an NFL outsider until replacing" late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw in '09 (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/27). In Detroit, Jerry Green wrote, "If there is a lockout ... the players would be the side more economically damaged. Roster bonus payments and health insurance would be aborted; workout rooms would be shuttered. ... This is a shootout that has much greater impact on the players than the owners. They have limited careers and in too many cases limited lifetimes" (DETROIT NEWS, 2/26). U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Friday, "Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to sort out this stalemate is for the owners and the league to answer the biggest sticking point: money. What I'd like to see from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners is a simple display of good faith: Show the union your books. Don't keep secrets. If there are financial pressures that keep you from agreeing to the revenue-sharing plan proposed by the players, let's see the proof" (AP, 2/25).
HANDS OFF: In Charlotte, Darin Gantt reported the message NFL officials have sent their employees regarding how things will be handled during a potential lockout is "loud and clear -- hands off." An agent who represents a number of assistant coaches said that his clients "were told that contact with players or their agents during a potential lockout would be grounds for firing with cause -- meaning remaining years and money owed on contracts would be voided." The agent: "They're not joking around about this." An agent who attended Friday's meeting with Smith said that the union leader "cautioned that 'pro day' workouts by college players could ... be exempt, using the league's interpretation of the rules" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/26).