At one point in the current labor dispute, long before the union decertified and 10 players filed an antitrust suit and the league locked them all out, the NFLPA was toying with political strategies that would hurt everyone. Persuading Congress to attack the league’s broadcast antitrust exemption, for example, would have led to less TV money for the league — and thus less TV money that could be shared with the players. Likewise, an apparent disdain for the league office’s tax-exempt status could have been replaced with a structure that would have made it more costly for the league and its teams to process revenues and pay taxes — and thus giving them less total money that could be shared with the players.
Now, as the process possibly moves toward conclusion, NFLPA* lawyers could be unleashing a legal strategy on behalf of unsigned players that could hurt both the league and the unsigned players.
The possible filing of a motion for an injunction aimed at forcing the league to sign rookies and free agents before locking them out would, as an NFLPA* legal memo obtained by Sal Paolantonio of ESPN puts it, cause “bizarre chaos” for the league. But it also would create a potential mess for the free agents and rookies.
A source not tied to the union or the NFL but with knowledge of the situation broke it all down for us earlier today.
Apart from the fact that the unsigned players will be locked out as soon as they sign contracts, the players surely won’t get any money until the lockout ends. Yes, there will be signing bonuses. But no team in its right mind will make the money due at any point before the 2011 league year commences. And so the tactic still won’t get the players their money any faster.
Also, the magnitude of the contracts offered will surely be much lower before the lockout ends than after a deal is struck. Though some teams may splurge on the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, the market will be much softer than it would be with a new labor deal in place.
As to the possibility that Peyton Manning would be a free agent, the source pointed out that the league would surely implement rules that would apply to the players for whom the lockout is lifted, at least until they sign contracts. The franchise tag would still be implemented, along with possible limits on restricted free agents.
On that point, the NFLPA* could argue while seeking the motion that the franchise tag and any other restrictions on free agency would violate antitrust laws and should be prohibited. But that process would make a complex process even more complicated. Besides, any ruling would be subject to another appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, delaying for weeks if not months the final outcome of the process.
The only group that would benefit in any way from the lifting of the lockout as to unsigned players would be the rookie draft picks, who presumably would be permitted to work out at team facilities and receive coaching — until they sign contracts. But with the calendar approaching August, there simply isn’t enough time to let all of that play out in a way that benefits anyone.
In the end, the NFLPA* lawyers may not care about the practical consequences of seeking an injunction for the unsigned players. Indeed, it may fit with their broader agenda of trying to string out the dispute long enough to miss the season and position the players for a big-money antitrust verdict.