Whatever happens after the expiration of the current labor deal, the NFL Players Association has a clear message for its members: Be prepared.
“We try to educate those guys as soon as we get them,” Winston added. “DeMaurice Smith and myself, we’ll have meetings with them this year. We introduce those topics and continue to educate. Obviously it falls on the leaders in the locker room. Clint Boling, Vinnie Rey, those guys that are [union] reps — it falls on them to answer a lot of questions.”
The last time the CBA expired, the NFLPA was still reeling from the sudden passing of long-time executive director Gene Upshaw — and the owners were determined to undo a 2006 deal that had caused them both to opt-out early and to constantly complain about the agreement. The owners currently aren’t complaining, which means they possibly won’t stage another lockout. Still, if the players want better terms, they may need to strike.
There’s a fundamental difference between the two potential outcomes. Ultimately, the question becomes whether the players are willing to lose game checks. They haven’t been in the past, at least not for long. If they choose to in 2021, they need to be prepared to be painted as the bad guys by the NFL’s politics-infused P.R. machine, which will be working overtime to win the hearts and minds of fans.
“They don’t look like it like, ‘We’re workers and they’re workers,'” Winston said. “They look at it like, ‘Oh, that’s my team. Whether it’s that player or another player, it’s still going to be my team and I want them to win and I don’t really care who’s doing the winning.'”
If the players strike, that theory will get tested by the use of replacement players, again. The real test will involve the players’ resolve, whether they’re locked out by management or choose to walk away.