Four seasons remain under the current labor deal, but the drums of labor war already are beating.
“I think that the likelihood of either a strike or a lockout in 2021 is almost a virtual certainty,” NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith recently told Albert Breer in a video posted at SI.com.
There can be a lockout without games being forfeited; that’s what happened in 2011. So will there be games missed if there’s a work stoppage in 2021?
“I don’t know now, but let’s look at our history,” Smith said. “The owners do a deal in 2006 and opt out in 2008. We do a deal in 2011 with no opt outs because we like the benefits under the current deal and we didn’t want to give the owners a chance to opt out and take back the gains that we currently have. . . . So we have a new deal where if it doesn’t get fixed you head into a certain small-A armageddon.”
In many respects, the situation will be influenced by whether the owners seek to make gains, whether the players seek to make gains, or both. It’s possible that the owners, who complained incessantly about the 2006 deal and never say a peep about the current deal (and all that that implies), will be playing defense in 2021, content to continue under the current terms and daring the players to strike.
Ultimately the question could be whether the players would miss game checks. Many believe that ship sailed for good in 1987, when the use of replacement players caused the players to crater after only a few weeks. The last major work stoppage came in 1982. That year, a strike reduced the regular season to nine games.
If the players are going to strike in 2021, those who will still be in the league need to save their money, and the union needs to have a plan to provide revenue for future players who currently are in college or high school. Above all else, the players need to be willing to go without football.
The best litmus test for the will to strike in the future could be an effort to boycott on a mass basis the voluntary portion of the offseason program. While players with significant workout bonuses may not be inclined to stay away, if enough players skip OTAs to make the session essentially meaningless, that would provide ownership with a capital-W warning shot for what may come in time.