Last Thursday, only hours before news broke of the surprising agreement between the NFL and the players’ union to submit their labor dispute to mediation, we pointed out that the NFLPA doesn’t agree with the league’s position that expiration of the current labor agreement ends the jurisdiction of Judge David Doty.
Before the top-secret negotiating sessions began, a league source told us that, from the league’s perspective, removing Doty from the position of resolving certain disputes regarding the language of the labor agreement is a dealbreaker. Though Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this month that there are no dealbreakers, Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reports that a top league source said the owners would sign under no circumstances a new agreement that continue to be subjected to “federal oversight.”
In other words, it’s a dealbreaker.
Another impediment to an agreement continues to be NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler. The league believes that Kessler has designed the union’s litigation strategy, and that Kessler’s motivation comes not from the best interests of the players but the best interests of his firm, which has racked up plenty of revenue in legal fees — and which stands to earn a lot more if the legal fights continue.
Kessler predictably denies that he’s motivated directly or otherwise by his own financial interests. “My job is to get a fair deal for the players, and I take my orders from DeMaurice Smith and the player executive committee,” Kessler told Kaplan. “Anyone who knows me knows that my sole interest is player welfare. Name calling is not going to help the parties get a deal and avoid a lockout.”
We agree with Kessler, but for reasons with which he likely disagrees. By putting so much pressure on the union to dump Kessler, the league has made it difficult if not impossible for the union to do so, lest De Smith be perceived as cowering to the NFL. Based on things we’ve heard in the nearly two years since Smith was elected to lead the union, Smith understands that Kessler is a divisive influence, and Smith is keenly aware of the magnitude of the invoices from Dewey & LeBoeuf. But Kessler possesses a significant amount of institutional knowledge, making him extremely valuable to the current negotiations.
If/when a new labor deal is reached, Kessler’s involvement could diminish dramatically, if not completely.
But only if the league stops asking for that to happen.