NFL players are "expected to file their reply Monday to the league's brief in an antitrust case, bringing the parties closer to a courtroom showdown that will probably determine when -- or if -- negotiations toward a new contract resume this spring," according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The April 6 hearing in Minneapolis on the players' request for an injunction to block the lockout and the decision that follows "may provide the only pressure on either party to return to talks." A "flurry of letters between them last week made clear that neither is willing to compromise its legal positions so early in the fight." The stalemate is "largely complicated by the sides' differing views on the decertification of the union." NFL owners "have another reason to resist the proposal players made last week to engage in litigation-settlement discussions in the antitrust suit," Tom Brady v. the NFL. Getting a new deal that is "not subject to oversight by the court ... is as big a priority for many owners as reducing player costs," and a "settlement of the antitrust suit does not accomplish that." However, for the players to "go back to collective bargaining would be an admission that the decertification was not real and was merely a negotiating tactic." Players "would sacrifice their antitrust protections and would remain locked out." The league's view is that "if it agrees to settlement talks, it will be a tacit acknowledgment that it accepts the decertification as real -- essentially that it is complicit in what it considers a sham -- undermining the cases it is building before the National Labor Relations Board and in court" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/28). In Philadelphia, Les Bowen wrote it "became clear" at last week's NFL meetings in New Orleans, "if it wasn't already, that the NFL is only eager to go back to talks" with the union. So the NFLPA "would have to rescind its decertification, which is kind of its basis for the antitrust suit." It is "hard to adequately convey the sneering, contemptuous tone the NFL lawyers convey when discussing the opponents' position." They "made it seem like a slam-dunk" that U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson "will agree with their contention about waiting for the NLRB to rule before granting any injunction that would end the lockout." Bowen wrote it "does seem very likely we will not get anything definitive from Nelson on April 6 or even within a few days of April 6," as she "has a lot of claims and counterclaims to sort through" (PHILLY.com, 3/25).
COURTING TROUBLE: SI.com's Peter King wrote, "Whenever the players and owners sit across the table from each other again, I'm told the owners won't bend on one thing: The desire to be rid of federal-court oversight in the new CBA. There had been rumblings of this going back to the mediation days in Washington, and more out of the league meetings in New Orleans last week." King added, "I was conversing Sunday with a source close to several owners and I said, 'It's obvious they don't want to leave their legal fate in the hands of a judge like David Doty.' The source shot back: 'They don't want to leave their fate in the hands of a judge, period. After having the last two decades, basically, with federal oversight in the Eighth Circuit, their attitude basically is this: No other leagues have the courts lording over them. Why should we?'" Another source added that this is a "vital issue for the owners" (SI.com, 3/28). In Jacksonville, Tania Ganguli reported Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver "doesn't believe the court system will solve much in the labor dispute between the NFL and its players," and he "thinks negotiations will lead to a fair deal in time so that games aren't missed." Weaver: "I'm getting out another letter to all of our fans saying, you know, you're going to hear a lot in the media about the court hearings on April the 6th. The reality of that is we think we'll win, but if we don't, we're still going to get back to the negotiating table. It'll just be how soon and when. Once we get back to the negotiating table, we all know that we have to play football in 2011. That's our bottom line." Weaver called the 10 plaintiffs in the players' antitrust lawsuit the "gang of 10," and he made several references to the players' decertification and claims against the league being a "sham." Weaver added, "It's obvious there will be some leverage to whichever side prevails. But I don't think it will keep from getting a deal done that's fair to both sides" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 3/26).
to negotiating table at any time
LONG-AWAITED MEETING: In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano reported NFL Alumni Association Exec Dir George Martin last Wednesday "finally met with the now-decertified" NFLPA, though sources said that the session was "unproductive, contentious and filled with bitterness on both sides." Martin "called the whole experience 'very unpleasant' and said he felt like a defendant at a war crimes trial." Martin: "What was supposed to be a 15-minute presentation turned into a two-hour cross-examination." Martin "has been campaigning for a face-to-face meeting" with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith since Martin was hired by the NFL Alumni Association in October '09. He "thought he might finally get it when the players invited him to their meetings in Marco Island, Fla." But while Smith was "in the meeting with Martin, it was far from a one-on-one, as a large group from the players' group led by former Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett, a member of the executive board representing retired players, were present" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/27). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman reported the meeting was "filmed," and a source said that it is possible that a "transcript of the meeting might be soon released." A source said that the meeting "became heated ... when several crucial issues were raised" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/26).
LET'S HEAR IT: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote the NFL's broadcast TV partners "should re-convene their analysts for a discussion about the league's current labor situation." Raissman: "Would like to hear what guys like Phil Simms, Cris Collinsworth, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson have to say. They have been flying under the radar. ... The fellas would be forced to discuss their own network's role in the situation" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/27).