Most NFL observers believe that the leverage-over-compromise approach spawned by the players in March will runs its course once the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issues a ruling in the appeal of Judge Nelson’s decision to lift the lockout.
From the players’ perspective, it was a simple, yet powerful, proposition. They could do a deal in the face of a threatened lockout in March or they could try to maximize their leverage with a court order lifting the lockout. If they lose, they can do a deal in the face of an actual lockout. Thus, the union had nothing to lose by disbanding the union and filing suit, and everything to gain.
So with the signs pointing clearly to the Eighth Circuit allowing the lockout to remain in place, the players will do a deal in the face of an actual lockout, and the season will proceed with no games missed, right? After all, that meshes with the message from Seahawks guard and NFLPA* representative Chester Pitts, who said on Monday before the court ruling was issued that the lockout will end soon, once one side gets leverage.
But there’s now a sense in some circles that the folks pulling the strings for the players will try to get the players to think of the next potential leverage point presented by the Tom Brady antitrust litigation. Even if the lockout remains in place, the case continues — with the players seeking three times their actual financial losses during a lockout that they contend is illegal. Confident that Judge Nelson will rule in their favor, the strategy would be to maximize the verdict and then take their chances on appeal, possibly before a new three-judge panel.
Then there’s the collusion case pending before Judge Doty, based on the allegation that the teams conspired not to sign restricted free agents. And don’t forget about the lockout insurance case, in which Judge Doty could issue a significant financial award for the players — and also block the ability of the owners to receive $4 billion from the networks during a season lost to the lockout.
Though the NFL has the conservative umbrella of the Eighth Circuit as potential insurance against a runaway financial award, it’s hard not to wonder whether lawyer Jeffrey Kessler has persuaded NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith to not compromise after losing on the effort to lift the lockout, but instead to find the next leverage point in the litigation and encouraging the players to remain unified until that card is played. And the next. And so on. Until a full season of football is sacrificed to the effort to conjure leverage.
The only problem? That’s likely not what the players signed up for, and once they realize in July or so that no progress is being made, they’ll begin to ask tough questions that will require something more meaningful than Godfather references or making baseless factual accusations against the league. The sooner that the players take a stand and insist on compromise over an ongoing attempt to obtain leverage, the better off everyone will be.