It’s become a given that NFL players won’t get a bigger piece of a $13 billion pie without skipping game checks during the regular season via a lockout or strike. It’s also a given that a strike can’t happen before the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, because the contract prevents the players from walking off the job or the league from locking them out.
But there’s a way players can strike without striking, allowing them to take a stand long before 2021.
As noted recently regarding whether the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem will cause players to realize the power they actually have, players have no obligation to report for the voluntary portions of the offseason training program. Apart from a three-day, mandatory minicamp, players can stay away from anything and everything.
When it comes to work stoppages, the NFL banks on the facts that players won’t give up game checks and/or the ability to do what they love: Play football. But skipping OTAs and other offseason activities results in no forfeiture of pay (except for players with significant workout bonuses) and no missed games.
It still wouldn’t be easy to stage a collective boycott of offseason workouts, especially since plenty of players are scratching and clawing to make the climb from 90 players on the roster to 53. But a full-squad walkout isn’t needed; a sufficiently large wrench will be thrown into the efforts to practice football if the men who distribute the football don’t show up to do it.
The quarterbacks are the key. If every quarterback under contract with every team decides not to show up for the offseason program, it will be impossible to have meaningful football practices.
It still won’t be easy. If all quarterbacks under contract don’t show up for the offseason program, teams will offer contracts to free agents desperate for a chance. But that’s where it will become important for the players, operating under the umbrella of the NFL Players Association, to stick together, realizing that the exercise of their right to not report for voluntary offseason work will help them secure better terms in the next labor deal.
To put it as frankly as possible, if the players (or at least the quarterbacks) won’t work together to take full advantage of their current legal right to not participate in the offseason program in an effort to get, for example, more money and/or a neutral arbitration process for all league-imposed discipline, they have no chance at making a lockout or a strike work to their advantage five years from now.
For Tom Brady, who recently argued that players should stand together and take advantage of their power, he should spend part of the next three weeks making plans for an effort to persuade all quarterbacks on all teams to show real leadership for all players by skipping the offseason program and forcing the NFL to lure them back by making meaningful concessions at the bargaining table.