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League continues to walk fine line between building leverage and threatening lockout

NFL Super Bowl Football

On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during his annual Super Bowl press conference that, if a new agreement isn’t reached between the league and the NFLPA by March 4, free agency won’t commence that day.  Goodell’s words echoed those of NFL general counsel Jeff Pash from two days earlier, and the implicit message seemed clear — there will be no free agency as of March 4 absent a new deal, because absent a new deal there will be a lockout.

Here’s what Goodell said, according to the transcript provided by the league:  “[I]f we’re unsuccessful in getting an agreement by March 4, I expect that the uncertainty will continue, which will be bad for our partners.  It will be bad for the players, it will be bad for the clubs. That uncertainty will lead to a reduction, potentially, in revenue, and, when that revenue decreases, there will be less for us to share.  That will just make it harder to make an agreement.  So, what we have to do is remove the uncertainty.  A series of things will happen in March if we’re not successful.  There will not be free agency, which will impact on the players.”  (Emphasis added.)

So I somehow finagled a spot in line to pose a follow-up to Goodell, blocking Brian Kilmeade of FOX News, who apparently wasn’t pleased with that particular development.  Here was my question:  “When you say that there will not be free agency on March 4th without a new labor deal, aren’t you essentially saying there will be a lockout if there isn’t a deal by March 4th?  If not how else would free agency be delayed?”

Said Goodell, “If I misspoke, I apologize, but I said if we are not successful by March 4th, a number of things will happen.  When that happens, one of them would be that there wouldn’t be free agency. There are close to 500 players that would qualify for free agency who won’t be free agents. There are enough incentives for all of us to get to the table and get this deal done right.”

He didn’t misspeak.  The point is that, if there’s no deal, there won’t be free agency.  As NFL chief outside counsel Bob Batterman told PFT Live last month, one of three things will happen on March 4:  (1) the parties will continue to operate under the current labor deal while negotiations continue; (2) the NFL will declare impasse under federal labor law and implement the terms of the league’s final pre-impasse offer; or (3) a lockout will commence.

Batterman made it clear that the current deal won’t be extended, which in theory would allow teams to begin making trades and signing free agents as of 12:01 a.m. ET on March 4.  As to the impasse option, the only way free agency wouldn’t occur is if the league’s final pre-impasse offer states that there will be no free agency moving forward.  The labor dispute has nothing to do with the current free-agency system; thus, the league’s final pre-impasse offer surely will maintain the current free-agency rules.

So there’s only one way there will be no free agency.  There will be no free agency if there’s a lockout.

Rich Eisen of NFL Network raised the no-free-agency-means-lockout question again during a one-on-one with Goodell immediately following the press conference.  “It’s a fact,” Goodell said.  “If you don’t have an agreement, there won’t be free agency movement and that is the problem.  For the players, that’s why you want to get an agreement now.  And if it extends out further, if it went so far as to get into the regular season, obviously that free agency period is going to have to be reduced.  That’s not good for the players.  That’s why we need to get this deal done sooner rather than later.”

Goodell is adroitly dancing on a fine line here.  In a lockout, no football business will be transacted until the situation is resolved.  The football business that won’t be transacted includes free agency.  Reminding the players of that builds leverage.

But the league wants to have it both ways, publicly squeezing the players by pointing out that no agreement means no free agency without admitting that no free agency happens only with a lockout.

Though there are new signs of hope that deal will be done before the end of March (more on that later), recent statements from Goodell and Pash prove that the NFLPA has had it right for more than a year.

Absent a deal, a lockout is coming.

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12 Responses to “League continues to walk fine line between building leverage and threatening lockout”
  1. pabroncos says: Feb 7, 2011 1:02 PM

    Who cares who you cut in front of to ask a follow up. Just give us the scoop. I don’t need to know your political affiliation. I read this to get away from that garbage.

  2. chapnastier says: Feb 7, 2011 1:02 PM

    Can someone please explain why there even has to be a Union to begin with? 90% of companies in this country function quite well without a union, why can’t the NFL?

  3. mikejd12 says: Feb 7, 2011 1:06 PM

    I like godell less and less as the years go on. i feel he is only concerned with lineing his pockets with money

  4. heybeerman95 says: Feb 7, 2011 1:15 PM

    GODell’s whole problem is he thinks he’s always the smartest person in the room, but in reality he’s usually the dumbest. Get this deal done Rodger and quit grandstanding.

  5. airraid77 says: Feb 7, 2011 1:18 PM

    where I disagree is their will be no prolonged lock out. the owners are just going to impose new rules on the players, forcing the players to strike.

  6. hail2tharedskins says: Feb 7, 2011 1:23 PM

    I am not so certain that a lockout is definite, I think the league might be playing a little misdirection here. I think they are trying to use the leverage of no free-agency to get the would-be free-agents to apply pressure on the union to make a deal now. Which of course would be the league’s preference (since that would mean no potential for a multi-year legal battle). However, absent a new deal I am not sold yet that league wouldn’t go the impasse route and impose their last best offer.

    I can’t see the benefit for the league using a lockout, not when they can impose the terms they want without disrupting their business. While a NFLPA decertification and a lawsuit is a potential using the impasse route, I doubt the league would have much to worry about as long as they stay in the framework of the current CBA.

  7. jasonculhane says: Feb 7, 2011 1:56 PM

    If the Colts sign Peyton Manning to a deal, that means an agreement is coming. If the Colts franchise tag Manning there is no agreement and hold on to your seats. There will be a war. Manning’s contract is the leverage for the union and Bill Polian is the NFL commitee member who has alot of leverage in this as well. It’s bad that Manning has not signed yet, I can tell you that much. Manning holds the cards because he is NFL’s most prominent and powerfull player monetarily. This would be a good clue if there would be an agreement soon. So far, no signing means no deal.

    Remember Tom Brady signed along with many other players, but none of them have the power of Peyton Manning. And with that power you can bet the union is indeed using Manning for any leverage it can get. And in this case its alot.

    As far as contracts go. From both sides its ALL a bunch of speculation per free agency, franchise tagging and what have you. Its speculation because no one knows enough about the history of this to have a valid conclusion. Both sides have top lawyers telling them their version of the contract thats binding. Its useless listening to bloggers like me(ha,ha) telling you what they think is binding.

    After March 4th, nothing is binding. The NFL is treating the contract like its a marriage between the Teams and thier kids, the players. The NFL is in fear because they know there is a chance the prominant players from each team with expiring contacts could perhaps jet and they are trying to cover their ass last week by sending memos out to GM’s saying they can franchise tag….The truth is…They don’t really know, but they have nothing to lose by issueing the memo and re-iterate to their clients (The Owners) to stay the course. What did you expect? Them to back peddle?

    Any team can try to sign anyone with no contract and will try to, key words are “try to”. And by the way, even if the players are under contract it doesn’t matter, the team has to pay them. If not, any judge will void that contract under constitution rights “right to make a living”, its that easy. Teams with contracts with players have to pay players. That is why it will be an absolute mess if these two greedy sides can’t come to an agreement, their will be lawsuits from both sides. It will be an absolute, utter mess.

    When you leave a company after a terminated contract are you not allowed to visit another business??? Like perhaps USFL? Think about it. I would watch the USFL if Peyton Manning was playing. Wouldn’t you?

    Revisiting about contracts. People are confused about players who are currently signed UNDER contracts. Look they are getting paid, football or not. If the NFL BINDS those under contract with current NFL agreement and that agreement isn’t renewed and their isn’t no revenue coming in, then those teams would either still pay a guy like Tom Brady, release him, or face a lawsuit because that contract is binding with the team, with Patriots signing him, that contract is binding with that team and its player. That is why Polian has NOT signed Peyton yet or vice verca, there maybe a speculation in there about what I’m saying.

    Imagine this. The NFL completely goes under. They will in one year of no football, guaranteed. The players will move on to either another league or bargain with another league and it will be formed. The NFL has no leverage and they are gambling with their future here. There’s a saying in the music business. You go where the talent takes you. The talent is walking out the door in this case. Thought I could help, what I’m saying is the absolute truth. I’m sure wishful fans will dispute it, maybe the Myans were right about 2012…

  8. Chris Guest says: Feb 7, 2011 2:20 PM

    Seriously, I wonder how you even graduated law school.

    It is a simple statement. If there no agreement then under what conditions would there be free agency – what is the max an owner can spend, what are the compensation picks do for signing, there are a host of issues that would need to be answered if even enough for you to make the jump to lock out.

    No agreement then there is no conditions for which to follow.

    It is like a contract for leasing a car. It is up at a specific date. After that date, you are not locked out from the car but it is now back in the hands of the car dealer and you are looking for a new car. You are not locked out.

  9. armchairgm9 says: Feb 7, 2011 3:13 PM

    Chris Guest has it right. It doesn’t have to be a “lockout” for there not to be free agency. The CBA defines the terms under which the NFL operates in free agency. With no CBA there is no defined time or guidelines for free agency/offseason and therefore it just won’t exist.

  10. anthonyfromstatenisland says: Feb 8, 2011 5:06 AM

    L – as in “lockout” – minus 24 days and counting.

    Tick … tick … tick …

  11. jasonculhane says: Feb 8, 2011 12:43 PM

    Chris Guest…you simply did not read or didn’t understand my point. You may have taken a couple talking points out of context.

    Your right, there will be no guidelines to follow, no free agency within NFL. Thats indeed what I’m saying. But there are contracts with the player and the team’s owner and a “franchise tag” is indeed implying that. Those contracts according to the NFL are binding, but if there is no NFL at all and you don’t if there will be, so please don’t say you know a deal will be done, because you can’t possibly know. You can actually void those contracts because the NFL pays its players through a revenue package. No revenue, there could be problems…Make sense.

    Further Chris, under the constitution and read it if you haven’t, you can’t deny a person’s right to make a living. There is no contract in this land that is going to hold up in court, doing that. The franchise tag, if used before the CBA expires, is only leveraging the owner to keep that player from going elsewhere, possibly making more money, in another league, or another team outside of the NFL or even within, if its negating that person making a better living after the CBA expires and if there is no deal in place, there is no way in absolute hell that franchise tag will hold in arbitration, no way. Its upon my understanding from the players union that after the CBA expires therefore the franchise tag should not exist, the owner is then ONLY leveraging a player “not to leave” with not a guarantee from their end to fullfill their contract duties….No NFL right? These are not slaves to their owners Chris.

    Chris another thing is, there are “loopholes” in every contract, any good lawyer can find them, but there is no contract here, only contracts with current players and their teams. Your comparing this “lockout” like when GM locked out its employees. Its different, in this case the players are the machines, the talent, the entertainers, they can go where ever they want and will if need to. The owners are sinking the NFL.

  12. jtsticks says: Feb 9, 2011 10:52 AM

    Actually, (according to a low level personnel person I know for one of the teams), since all individual contracts for players are governed by the CBA, if there is no CBA, no players are under contract. When a new CBA is approved, one of the stipulations will be that all contracts signed under the old CBA will be considered valid under the new CBA. Also, if the league is saying you can franchise tag a player, that means it is not a issue between the league and union and will be in the next CBA, again making the tags done now, valid in the new CBA.

    As too the owners sinking the league statement by locking out the players and they can go where ever they want. Where would they go?? The NFL has contracts for TV with the networks, it would surprise me if the contracts did not say they could not broadcast other football leagues, which means all free TV could not carry football. Also, where would the play? You think the current franchises would let a new league play in their stadiums without a legal fight that would hold things up?? And even if you found places to play, what entity would be willing to make the investment to be able to televise games for what would be an extremely unstable league future.

    It will be the NFL or nothing unfortunately. Besides, both sides know this is too good of a thing to screw up, they will get something done and we will see football in 2011.

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