With events changing by the hour and plenty of developments to come in the next couple of days, Peter King and Sports Illustrated wisely decided to carve out a portion of King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column for a report from Jim Trotter regarding the events of late last week.
Trotter reports that, late Thursday afternoon, the NFLPA came dangerously close to pursuing its nuclear option — the initiation of a stew of litigation commencing with decertification of the union.
Reports Trotter: “With only five minutes to go before the union’s deadline to decertify last Thursday — a move that might have obliterated the NFL as we know it today — a player walked into the negotiating room that included commissioner Roger Goodell, league attorney Jeff Pash, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Kevin Mawae and declared: ‘We’re done! We’re decertifying.’”
Trotter doesn’t name the player who made the power play, due to the “sensitivity of ongoing negotiations,” but we’d like to make a guess.
For starters, we’ll assume the player was a member of the union’s Executive Committee, which consists of: Charlie Batch, Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins, Domonique Foxworth, Scott Fujita, Sean Morey, Tony Richardson, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, and Brian Waters. Given the gravity of the message, it surely was one of those guys who delivered it.
Of that group, we think it was Brees. And here’s why.
First, he’s the only quarterback on the Executive Committee, and quarterbacks are the natural and obvious leaders in football. Second, because Brees has at all times been reasonable in this process, a strong message from him will have a far greater impact than a strong message coming from someone with a reputation for sending strong messages. Third, Brees reportedly will attach his name to the antitrust lawsuit filed after decertification; it makes sense for him to let it be known that this avenue is being pursued. Fourth, to the extent that some members of the Executive Committee reportedly are concerned about being blackballed once the labor dust settles, Brees is the least likely to be shunned, given that he’s one of the best players in the league and that he has plenty of quality years left in the tank. Fifth, Brees likely has studied the issues sufficiently — including last week’s 28-page “lockout insurance” ruling — to become genuinely pissed about the tactics that league has used (in the estimation of Judge David Doty) to leverage the players.
Regardless of whether Brees or someone else delivered the message, the players are ready for a fight, if a fight is needed.
“We’re ready to go,” an anonymous player (Brees?) told Trotter. “If this is what it’s going to take for them to negotiate fairly and take us seriously as partners, then let’s do it. Honestly, most players come from the background where if their backs are being pushed against the wall they’re going to fight back. They’re not going to turn and cower. That’s just the DNA of most NFL players, because that’s what got us here. It’s that survival skill and that ability to fight in pressure situations that has got us to this level. That’s what you’re seeing right now and will continue to see as we go forward.”
It may not work, but we like the approach. The league claims the players are partners, but the league has been (in our view) treating the players like employees, squeezing them simply because the owners can. Though we hope cooler heads will prevail, we also hope that the owners will realize that, while players come and go, they need to be regarded as something other than fungible and they need to be treated properly during what for many of them is a limited period of time before the permanent lockout commences with the often involuntary completion of their careers.