The media voices that have chimed in on the proposed CBA are in plenty of cases, and not surprisingly, rife with agendas and conflicts. At least one person who is speaking out against the proposed CBA is believed by some to be posturing for NFL Player Association employment, either if/when Russell Okung becomes the next NFLPA president on March 10 or if/when Richard Sherman becomes the next NFLPA executive director. (In fairness, there are probably more than a few who think that currying favor with Okung and/or Sherman now will create tangible benefits later.)
Against this backdrop comes a new, detailed critique of the proposed CBA, one that leads with the confusing claim that, because both the league and the union have privately lobbied for the deal to be presented in a more positive light, the NFL knows it’s getting a good deal. The more likely reality, given all known facts and circumstances, is that the union’s non-player leadership (i.e., executive director DeMaurice Smith) has concluded that this is the best deal the union is going to get, when considering both the size of the slice of the pie and, far more importantly, the size of the pie itself.
The new, detailed critique of the proposed CBA never addresses the various dynamics that could result in a smaller pie, via much less TV revenue being available if the rank and file vote no, if the talks are suspended for a year, and if a new deal is done at some point between March and August of 2021. By then, the two-year wave of increased TV ratings may (and likely will) reverse course, especially if the presidential election comes down to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. By then, the economy could make it harder to support the kind of cigars-and-guffaws free spending in which the networks currently seem to be anxious to engage. By then (or maybe by April or May), the coronavirus may have done enough financial damage to cause network executives to choke on their Cohibas and slam their coffers shut.
The quality of the current CBA simply cannot be considered without considering the very real possibility that the pie will shrink. What’s better, then, 48 percent of $200 or 50 percent of $150? That’s as simple as the example can get, and that’s exactly how simple it is to assess what would happen if continued delay causes the networks that are by all appearances ready to buy! buy! buy! to retreat into their shells. And if the owners’ total amount of pie, considering both size of slice and size of pie, ends up shrinking due to the passage of time, the league will damn sure try to get all or part of the difference from the players — making the league far less likely to go anywhere close to a 50-50 split.
The league has the leverage to get what it wants; it’s been proven during the 1987 strike and the 2011 lockout. Thus, it all comes down to leverage. And it all comes down to whether players will ultimately sacrifice the ability to play football and the ability to get paid to play football for a year or longer in order to apply maximum pressure to the league. For De Smith, who isn’t engaged in a drive-by analysis of these issues but who presumably wrestles with them on a full-time basis, the conclusion that he obviously reached is that the players get the biggest slice and pie by moving forward now, without further delay or another work stoppage that NFL players aren’t in a position to endure.
That’s precisely the type of judgment that Smith was hired more than a decade ago to provide. Although he needs to carefully maneuver the political realities of working with strong-willed men whose votes will in some cases be shaped far more by their own personal interests than by the greater good, the union wouldn’t be poised to vote on a new CBA if Smith didn’t genuinely believe that now is the time, and that this is the best deal that the players will get when consider size of slice and size of pie.
Size of pie. That’s the key. And the fact that the new, detailed critique of the proposed CBA devotes not a single word to this incredibly important issue makes it very difficult to give the rest of it any real credence.
That doesn’t mean the deal is perfect. We’ve posted various items regarding the 10-page summary of the proposed CBA, raising real concerns about it. But when it’s time to vote, players need to consider two things above all else — size of slice and size of pie. Unless and until someone can identify tangible evidence to counter De Smith’s conclusion based on months of talking to management that the pie will be as big as it’s going to get if a deal is done now and that the pie will in time shrink, how can anyone fairly disagree with that assessment?
It’s easy to say, “The networks are bluffing.” Or, “The league is lying.” But as Smith often said during the lockout, you’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts. And that facts are (absent proof to the contrary) that the networks are ready to get something big done now, and that one or more dynamics that could or will unfold in the course of the next year (election, economy, epidemic) could change that, perhaps dramatically.
Again, it’s impossible to critique the proposed CBA without fully and fairly considering the critically important possibility that the TV won’t get and better and could get a lot worse.