First of all, the NFLPA no longer exists, as the union decertified on Friday afternoon. (I highly suggest you read this Q & A on what decertification means , too.) And as of Saturday, March 12, the NFL is locking the players out .
But what happens to football now that things are seemingly in utter chaos and the NFL has locked out the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA?
Well, no one actually knows , because much of it hinges on legal decisions but we can take a gander at some possibilities in the old lucky No. 7 formation.
1. A lockout -- does that mean I get no NFL football in 2011?
Well, not necessarily. The interesting thing about a full-on legal battle is that there's a decent chance all the "action" takes place in the courtroom. Which means there's a decent chance that actual NFL football gets played. Could much of the offseason be lost? Most definitely. And could part of the regular season be missed? Sure. In fact, the whole season could go unplayed, but there's just waaaaay too much money at stake (about $9 billion, in case you didn't hear) and way too many mortgages that need to be paid on stadiums and way too many paychecks that need to be cashed for the NFL simply not to exist in 2011.
No, see, that's the thing. There's a lockout but there's not definitely one. Which sounds really stupid, but makes sense when you consider that the legal issue of a lockout -- whether the NFL can actually stop a non-union from coming to work -- won't get solved for a little while. As it stands now, the earliest we'll probably know whether a lockout is actually happening is probably Monday. But it could be anytime Saturday, only that would mean that someone employed by the government works on a weekend for the first time ever. (Hey-o!)
No, but seriously, judge Judge David Doty's first piece of work will be deciding whether or not the NFLPA (when it was a union) was within its legal rights to decertify. If he says yes, then the league won't be able to lock the players out and we'll move closer to a "normal" offseason.
3. Wait, why wouldn't the NFLPA be able to decertify? I mean, they already did, didn't they?
Yes, they did. But the league is likely to try and block the decertification based on the logic that the NFLPA decertified before and then rejoined at a later date. In fact, the league will be regularly (and publicly) referring to it as a "sham" in the coming days. However, there's a certain portion of the lawsuit against the league that references a previous ruling by Minnesota court that "the NFL could not assert any claimed exemption to antitrust laws based on an allegation that the action by a majority of NFL players to renounce collective bargaining is somehow ineffective or a sham."
To put it more simply: the players got a "decertification insurance" the last time around, and they're going to be using it.
4. Can my team sign Nnamdi Asomugha (or anyone for that matter)?
Not yet, because there's also not free agency. If the NFL had skipped the lockout and imposed the last set of rules on the players, the market would have been open and the result would have been utter and total insanity. Not to mention a lot of awkward negotiating (after all, these guys are suing each other).
What probably happens on this end is that we get a ruling on whether or not decertification is legal, and then, somewhere down the line -- think 3-6 weeks, as is being reported by various outlets -- free agency starts. That's not terrible, because it means teams will get a decent head start on filling out rosters and making sure no really stupid money gets tossed about for free agents. Alternately, it might not start until August, and then it'll be kind of ugly to see what happens in a really short amount of time.
5. How about Peyton Manning -- can my team sign him?
No. Because Manning is currently "franchised" by the Indianapolis Colts. But there's an interesting part of the players' antitrust lawsuit dedicated to those tags, where the lawyers in charge point out that there's no logical reason for the franchise tag to survive any longer. Namely, that once the CBA expires, so does the franchise tag and that the NFL is just imposing the tag (along with the Transition Tag) because it wants to without any legal basis.
This is vastly more interesting now that the union no longer exists, because the argument from the players is that applying such a restriction is a violation of trade law. Oh, and yes, there ARE three named plaintiffs who happen to be designated as franchise players: Manning, Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins.
Manning's probably not going to leave the Colts, but, needless to say, fans of Indy's franchise (and Indy management) probably don't want to see the franchise tag disappear quite yet. After all, these guys are tagged right now, but if that tag disappears, there's a decent chance they become unrestricted free agents. Just like free agency, it's TBD.
6. What about the draft -- is my team getting Cam Newton?
There's a clause in the lawsuit about that too! Go figure, right?
And, in the player's suit, the draft is also called an "anticompetitive restriction." In the "real business world," this makes sense -- imagine if you were the top graduate from business school out of Harvard and, instead of deciding to work at the job that offered you the most money and best benefits and whatnot, you had to go work for whatever company finished with the worst profit margin the previous year? You'd be pretty angry. And we'd all work for Aol.
That's not to say there won't be a draft, but if the players are as unified in late April as they are now, they could always boycott the draft. And, in a total worst-case scenario, a ruling from Judge Doty could come whereby the draft IS considered an anticompetitive restriction and therefore no longer a legal method of "hiring."
The most important thing to remember about those two points, though, is that as the draft gets closer, there's a good chance the owners face an even tighter squeeze to make some sort of settlement happen and get ready to play football.
7. Will my favorite players just be working hard to get prepared for the upcoming season? Anything else I should know?
Well, yeah. About that. See, at midnight, the NFL's personal conduct policy and drug testing goes out the window. That means if someone wants to spend the evening chugging HGH out of a bong, they can't actually get in trouble with the NFL for it. (Johnny Law might disagree, but that doesn't matter for work purposes.)
And, as we've noted, agents are in the wild, wild west, too . That should mean lots of poaching and no union to regulate whether these guys are paying off college athletes. So, yeah, a sleazier version of Lord of the Flies .
Much more devastating and serious is that there will be lots of coaches and employees who are also worked out and not getting paid. Fans care about football, as is their right. But we/they are still consumers -- many people are going to be losing their jobs because these two diametrically opposed sides feel compelled to play a high-stakes game of chicken in a very public arena.
And that, folks, is the key word here: leverage .
It's what this whole shebang is about and it's why we'll be dealing with a barrage of "we're winning but we're not in it to win, we just care about the fans!" public relations statements over the next few months. This thing will, in my humble and not legally legal opinion, still end in a settlement.
It'll come once things get really ugly in court and both sides are really happy with each other, but it will come. And we will (probably) have football in 2011. But it's not going to be a rough road getting there, so strap in.
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