Though it’s being widely reported and assumed that the NFL will lock out a non-union workforce before midnight, the approach plays into the lawsuit filed earlier today, aimed at blocking a lockout.
Some of you have asked whether the NFL has an alternative to a lockout. The answer is yes. There are two other options.
First, the NFL can impose rules for free agency, the draft, salary cap, etc. This also invites antitrust scrutiny, since the NFL consists of 32 separate businesses that, the players claim, cannot establish rules that restrict player movement between the 32 companies.
Second, the NFL can operate as 32 separate businesses, with no rules. No rules means no draft, no franchise tag, no salary cap.
It also means no minimum salaries, no mandatory benefit plans, and no considerations for former players.
The league now has what every business with a union wants — no union. If the league is willing to experiment with an environment in which rookies would be recruited like free agents and players whose contracts expire would be free to leave, the league could treat every year as being a year without a salary cap, and a year without a salary floor.
The long snapper could be paid $50,000 per year. A rookie represented by an agent not regulated by any union could be cajoled into signing a valid and binding 10-year contract.
The primary risk would come from having an owner like Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones attempt to buy a perennial championship team. But since we’ve seen how efforts by each man to purchase a Lombardi Trophy have fared in the past, why not let them keep trying?
Of course, the league surely won’t go that route. If, however, the players choose to push the litigation to the limit and not simply settle the case but insist on a judgment, the worst-case scenario for the league would be having a no-rules scenario forced upon it.
A lockout is the best choice because it focuses the legal fight initially on the question of whether the union’s decertification is a sham — and more importantly on whether the NFL has the ability to raise the “sham” argument. The union believes that defense has been waived; the outcome of the first skirmish could nudge the parties toward a quick settlement.