Well, let's just say that you shouldn't count out the possibility of football next fall. There's a long way to go before the NFL regular season is threatened, and the decision by the players association Friday to decertify doesn't necessarily mean the next time the league and the players see each other is in court.
They can still negotiate. And maybe, with so much hanging in the balance, they will. But there's going to have to be some give and take.
We're not going to take sides here. All we know is that there's too much as stake to continue posturing. And if the owners and players are really concerned about the fans as they say they are, they should be able to get it done.
But as we've found out, this all comes down to trust, and there is none. The players want teams to open their books so they can see the financial hardship; the owners said no. The owners want an additional $800 million on top of the $1 billion they already receive for operating expenses; the players refuse. Neither side trusts the other.
In the aftermath of decertification, quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, plus several other players, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL to prevent a lockout, the Associated Press reported. They also requested an injunction to prevent the league and NFL teams from locking out players.
In a statement Friday, the NFL said, "The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).
"The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs.
Packers President Mark Murphy
Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images
But the players have made it clear that nothing will get done without full financial disclosure from the clubs. If this goes to court, they may get their wish. Additionally, DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said there remain "significant differences" with the league's latest proposal toward a collective bargaining agreement.
"As businessmen, we asked the owners two years ago to consider two basic tenets to getting a fair deal: financial transparency and the health and safety of our players," Smith said in response to the league's statement. "Financial transparency would help us reach a compromise. Even until the last moment, we were rebutted. And as for health and safety, that's a non-negotiable issue. To our players, I will not ever yield on this point. There is no price tag for your arms, legs, backs, necks, shoulders and brains."
There was a chance the two sides could extend negotiations again if the league agreed to provide 10 years of audited financial documents, but when that didn't happen by 5 p.m. ET, the union opted to decertify.
The NFLPA now operates as a professional trade association that works in support of past and current players. Now we'll see if Friday's developments drive the two sides closer to an agreement or farther apart.
"To the fans, we are sorry it came to this today," Smith wrote. "You deserve better. I am truly sorry. The players are sorry. Our players — your players — left everything they had at the table. I have asked them for two years to commit themselves to this process. I have asked them as businessmen in the business of football to commit to leading their teammates through this process. I have asked them to leave their families, be at every meeting, review every document and engage in every part of negotiations. They exceeded every expectation. They should be proud and hold their heads high for their leadership."