Last year, rumors flew of a possible playoff strike. Though we explained that such an assault would be illegal and ill-advised, Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas reacted angrily to the mere mention of the existence of the rumors.
“To be blunt, it’s a flat-out,
bald-faced, capital-letters lie,” Thomas said at the time. “We’re not the ones who are
interested in not playing. We want to play. We’re not going on
We signed this agreement and we’re fine with
it. We’re happy. We don’t want to stop playing football.”
Of course, that was before the salary cap — and salary floor — disappeared, which has resulted in teams generally not spending big money on unrestricted free agents, not signing restricted free agents to offer sheets, and not signing their own players to lucrative long-term deals. As the 2010 season approaches, player discontent has spiked, and rumors continue to persist of a walkout before the expiration of the current labor deal.
It would still be illegal and ill-advised, but there’s a way it could happen that would be legal, albeit possibly still ill-advised.
Article XXVIII, Section 16 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the union the ability to terminate the labor deal prematurely upon a finding of one of more instances of collusion involving five or more clubs and causing injury to 20 or more players, or via proof by clear and convincing evidence that 14 or more clubs have engaged in collusion injuring one or more players.
Given the number of restricted free agents, a showing that teams agreed, overtly or implicitly, to not sign those players to offer sheets, would seem to be enough to prove collusion.
If the NFLPA hopes to try to terminate the agreement prematurely, the proceeding must disclose from the outset a desire to terminate the agreement, and the Special Master must find that the teams engaged in willful collusion with the intent of restraining competition among teams for players.
The challenge continues to be proving collusion. No smoking gun will be available, unless someone says something really dumb (like A.J. Smith talking about the Chargers’ refusal to do long-term deals until the labor situation is resolved, and saying that the team isn’t being a “lone ranger” in that regard). Thus, the union would rely heavily on circumstantial evidence, carefully pieced together in an effort to persuade the Special Master that an express or implied agreement not to spend money or sign players existed.
Then, if the agreement were to be terminated before the end of the season, the players could indeed strike.
Again, we’re not sure it’s the smartest thing to do. But laying the foundation for a strike that would potentially scuttle the playoffs and the Super Bowl could be the best way to squeeze the NFL into doing a new deal on terms favorable to the players.