Some have described the ongoing discussions between the NFL and the NFL Players Association as a “mini-CBA” negotiation. And that’s accurate. The circumstances, however, make this far different than the usual bargaining model that happens when league and union try to strike a new labor deal.
In this case, the NFL can’t use the threat of a lockout to get the players to cave. Instead, the league’s hammer comes from the threat of, essentially, a lock-in.
If the two sides can’t work out an agreement as to the safety rules for pro football in a pandemic, the league will impose its proposed rules and the union will file a grievance challenging them as unsafe. Pending a resolution of the grievance, the league essentially will be forcing players to report for duty in raging COVID-19 hotspots like Houston, Dallas, Miami, and L.A.
So maybe the NFLPA should call the league’s bluff. “Go ahead, implement the rules. Force us to show up. Take the P.R. hit that comes from coming off as unreasonable and heavy handed during the biggest public-health crisis of our lifetimes.”
Deadlines drive dealmaking when the deadlines are mutual. In this case, maybe the deadline isn’t mutual. Maybe the NFL needs to reach safety and financial agreements with the NFLPA more than the NFLPA needs to reach those agreements.
The NFLPA arguably doesn’t need to agree to anything; the financial aspect favors the players, thanks to a CBA that lacks a force majeure clause, and given the P.R. risks associated with the league ordering players over their objection to show up for work in a pandemic.
Thus, at a time when plenty in the media are suggesting in subtle (or not-so-subtle) fashion that the league has the union in check, the truth may be that, if the union simply does nothing, the league will slide into self-checkmate.