When I left Hilton Head Saturday morning, it had been suggested that almost nothing could derail a new labor deal.
That attitude possibly has jinked the entire process.
Now that I’m back at PFT headquarters and catching up on the stuff I missed while driving 600 miles and stopping for a couple of meals (Florio Jr. strongly objected to waiting 35 minutes for a table at Cracker Barrel), it looks like the players opted — through their lawyers — to make a power play on Saturday, something that the owners had feared.
As ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported earlier today, the players want $320 million in benefits that weren’t paid during the uncapped year, as well as a one-year limit on the use of the franchise tag. Also, if the “lockout insurance” case must be settled separately and apart from the financial package negotiated by the league and the players, it’s possible that another nine-figure sum could be demanded. And to the extent that the Brady antitrust lawsuit needs to be resolved via something more than the contents of a new CBA, the players still could demand even more money and/or special treatment for the named plaintiffs, such as an agreement never to use the franchise tag on any of them.
With a deal now regarded by the media and fans and players and pretty much everyone else as a foregone conclusion, the NFLPA* has by all appearances opted to go for one last home run, possibly buoyed by the league’s decision to cave on the “right of first refusal” concept and the league’s significant concession on the rookie wage scale.
In theory, if the league calls the players’ bluff — and if it ends up not being a bluff — the whole thing could still blow up.
Given the dramatic progress that has been made on far thornier and challenging issues, we can’t imagine the talks crumbling now. Instead, the players likely decided to roll the dice in the hopes of making the deal a little (or, as the case may be, a lot) sweeter, and if the parties can’t work out these remaining issues on their own, then U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan will go Alton Benes on anyone and everyone in the room.
Sure, there’s a chance that the NFLPA* lawyers are hoping that cooler heads won’t prevail, but the failure to wrap this thing up now would create a significant backlash for everyone involved. Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith are in the home stretch of the ultimate three-legged race, and they’re smart enough to figure out what it takes to get to the finish line.