In two months, the current labor deal between the NFL and the players’ union will expire. Despite some optimism in November and December that the two sides were making progress toward a new agreement, the new year has brought a new sense that trouble is coming. Soon.
Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal reports that no negotiations are scheduled, a depressing reality with only 60 days remaining before the labor deal ends. Earlier today, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson expressed pessimism regarding the pace of the discussions. (Said the league in response to Richardson, via NFL spokesman Greg Aiello: “We understand and share Mr. Richardson’s disappointment in the lack of engagement by the union and the slow pace of the negotiations.”)
Perhaps the most telling observation in recent weeks drew far less attention that it deserved. In the web-only version of a 60 Minutes interview featuring Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, reporter Scott Pelley asked Jones if a lockout would be “disastrous” to the league.
“No. I do not,” Jones said.
He may be right, but it’s not something that any owner should be saying, in our view. It creates the impression that the owners are willing to force a lockout to get the concessions they want from the players. And it validates the rhetoric from NFLPA executive director De Smith that a lockout is coming.
The problem remains that, with the owners wanting the players to accept a smaller piece of the financial pie in the hope that a bigger pie will be grown, the players have no reason to blink until they start losing money. While the owners can point out that money will be lost by everyone during an offseason lockout, players won’t truly feel the pinch until they stop getting paid.
And they won’t stop getting paid until September.
So this one may not end until September. At the earliest.
The good news, if there is any? While Richardson claims that the owners remain united, divisions may arise regarding the urgency to get a deal done without a lockout that results in a reduced offseason and/or training camp. Teams breaking in new coaches won’t want to defer all contact between the new coach and his new team until the players cry uncle after missing two or three pay days.
Of course, that may be why so few teams have fired their coaches, and why those that have are looking hard at internal candidates, in an effort to enhance continuity. As more teams hire new coaches from outside the organization, more teams have a good reason to push for a deal to get done. For now, it appears that only four of 32 teams will fall into this category: the 49ers, Panthers, Browns, and Broncos. Richardson will bite the bullet for the greater good, which means that as few as three teams will be inclined to push for a deal to be done long enough before September to permit the new coach to have some sort of meaningful impact in 2011.
And that means that this dynamic won’t create any enhanced pressure on the league to get something done sooner rather than later.