For weeks, the owners have been leery of the lawyers representing the players in their legal challenge against the league. The concern has been that Jeffrey Kessler and Jim Quinn prefer to push the Tom Brady antitrust lawsuit to a conclusion, even if it means missing an entire season. Then, with a verdict that easily could exceed $10 billion, the players possibly could acquire partial ownership of the league itself.
But, again, that approach requires a full season to be lost.
And so the league has believed that, with progress being made between the two sides in recent weeks, Kessler and Quinn have been trying to derail the process. The fact that NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith at one point last month told Kessler and Quinn to “stand down” shortly after they re-entered the room seemed to confirm that the lawyers, regardless of their actual motivations, were an impediment to the process.
After Thursday night’s midnight-oil bargaining session, which Kessler missed because his other clients — the NBA Players Association — were in the process of being locked out, there are strong indications that progress once again is being made. And with the next week being critical to the question of whether a deal will be completed in time to salvage the full $800 million generated by the preseason, Kessler and Quinn face a dilemma.
On one hand, they can spend the Fourth of July weekend trying to rally members of the Executive Committee and other key players to resist agreeing to the terms offered by the league. If that delays the finalization of a new CBA beyond the point at which the full preseason can be played, the total dollars paid to the players for 2011 necessarily will drop, possibly making the players even less inclined to do a deal. If, however, enough of the players rally around De Smith and support finalizing the negotiations over pursuing litigation, Kessler and Quinn will be extremely vulnerable to termination of their relationship with the NFLPA* once the asterisk is removed and labor peace is restored.
On the other hand, Kessler and Quinn can choose to support Smith’s approach, hopeful that he’ll decide in the aftermath of a new CBA that the lawyers helped generate leverage for an agreement and, when the time came to close the deal, they stepped aside and allowed the process to reach a conclusion. That way, their stream of high-dollar legal fees will continue as issues inevitably arise under the next labor deal.
One source with knowledge of the dynamics believes that Kessler and Quinn will choose the latter approach, cognizant of the reality that, if they try to take on Smith directly, they’ll fail — and they’ll eventually get fired. The league surely fears that the lawyers will opt instead to try to undo the progress that was made on Thursday, in the hopes of running out the clock and better positioning the process for litigation, not negotiation.
Regardless, the strategy the lawyers ultimately select could go a long way toward determining whether or not we’ll have football in 2011.