So what prompted the owners to make significant concessions on the rookie wage scale Thursday? Some have said it was the threat of the filing of a motion to lift the lockout as to players not under contract. Jim Trotter of SI.com reports that the dam may have broken once the players unveiled a plan to fund the lockout during the season with $200,000 per player.
Specifically, Trotter reports that NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith “secure[d] insurance” in the amount of roughly $200,000 per player in the event that the lockout wipes out the full 2011 season. Trotter also reports, citing only an unnamed source close to an owner, that the maneuver got the league’s attention.
This raises plenty of questions, and the balance of the report contains scant details.
First, where did the insurance come from? It’s hard to imagine many insurance companies underwriting a risk that is tied to the whims and will of 32 human beings, especially when the total payout would have exceeded $300 million.
Second, how much did the premiums cost, and who paid for them?
Third, who would have been covered? Plenty of players don’t need it. Rookies do, especially the guys who weren’t drafted.
Fourth, would it have mattered? When the league contains plenty of guys who make $2 million per year but live like they earn twice that amount, $200,000 won’t do much to finance the balance of 2011 and the first seven non-football months of 2012.
That’s the thing that everyone has overlooked. If the season had been scrapped, the players would have had to get through the football season without game checks, and then they would have had to make it to the next football season without having received game checks during the prior season.
So while it’s an intriguing detail, its impact on the owners possibly is being overstated, especially when considering the assumption that the $200,000 per player would have been coupled with, as Trotter explains it, “a large financial award from U.S. District Judge David Doty, who previously ruled the owners had illegally created a $4.3 billion lockout fund for themselves by renegotiating their TV deals at the expense of the players.”
Any award from Doty would have been subject to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Given its conservative composition, the players’ ability to secure victory before that court would have been a toss-up, at best. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that the appeals court would have resolved the issue during the 2011 season. Though the Eighth Circuit expedited the appeal of the ruling to lift the lockout, courts rarely if ever speed up the process of considering cases in which the only question is whether and to what extent money will change hands.
In other words, the players would have seen none of the money when they needed it the most. (That said, it could have helped them get through part of the 2012 offseason.)
Still, if the players think they pulled a rabbit out of the hat with the owners and scored one final coup, so be it. At the end of the day, the players need to feel good about their work, and in many respects they should. (Also, given that De Smith is up for re-election in March 2012, he needs the players to feel good about their leader.) The owners surely expected to finagle a much better deal than the deal that eventually will be done. To the extent, however, that the prospect of the players getting $200,000 each to tide them over until September 2012 scared the owners into bridging the fairly small gap that remained on the rookie wage scale, we’ll choose to be skeptical, for now.