NFL, NFLPA firing test shots across the bow

An NFLPA warning shot has been launched that has enough time to self-correct.

It didn’t get a lot of attention last week when NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sent a communication to all NFL players, with a focus on the rookie class whose members were in the process of signing their first contracts.

Why was this year’s draft so important? The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and its players is scheduled to expire at the end of the 2020 season – four years from now when all current rookie contracts are set to expire for all of the picks.

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings remember how bizarre the offseason was in 2011 when Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and eight other players filed an antitrust suit against the NFL in Minneapolis as a last-ditch effort to prevent a lockout that threatened to jeopardize the 2011 season.

What followed was an ugly impasse that, fortunately for those involved on both sides, ended after just a couple days of missed training camp. With too many billions of dollars to be lost by both sides, when billionaires negotiate with millionaires, nothing is lost during the offseason. It’s only when games get missed that money would be lost.

What followed the last time we were in this situation was the creation of strange days. Somehow the lawsuit magically got a stay of execution on draft weekend, allowing players to get the too-long bro hug from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It gave Vikings fans an insight into the future when that orchestrated window opened. First-round draft pick Christian Ponder was able to do the grip-and-grin photo with the front office types – holding his jersey, which happened to be the same No. 7 that Tarvaris Jackson had worn the previous four years. It was a clear indication that, while the lockout was settled, Jackson wasn’t in the team’s plans – giving away his jersey number spoke to that.

Things didn’t truly get real until training camp was scheduled to open. Free agency wasn’t going to be a month-long process that had a series of peaks and valleys of activity. It was going to be a dead sprint for those guys, which led to the ill-advised signing of Donovan McNabb.

At the time, it was learned that a lot of players who were paid well had leveraged themselves by either making gigantic purchases like homes and expensive rides that required them to continue getting those fat checks to make sure everything was paid up. The bills kept coming. The paychecks weren’t as inevitable.

Perhaps it’s merely cautionary that Smith is advising players to save their money in the event they need a nest egg in the spring, summer and, in a worst-case scenario, fall of 2020.

As new revenue streams emerge and discussions like the use of marijuana for pain management – topics that didn’t even exist in 2011 – become sticking points on the next CBA, it would be in the best interest to get the lower-level hierarchy of the NFL and the NFLPA to get together now to lay out the framework of the points of contention. The bottom line is that there is enough money to go around for everybody. The NFL was immune from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression less than a decade ago.

This time around? The public sentiment will, as it always does, pick sides in a battle. However, just as work stoppages in the past were dealing with the audience of the era, Millennials – and those generation-designations that will replace them every couple of years – will be disinterested until it impacts them.

Will it impact them?

The NFLPA is telling their charges to start pulling back a little contract cake to make due, depending on how long the hypothetical next work stoppage arrives.

This time, it may not end a couple days into when players were obligated to report to work.

Memo to Roger and DeMaurice: The boat isn’t rockin’. Make a statement that is unnecessary and you’ll be smack dab in the middle of a “lose-lose” situation.

Funny thing about the audience you’re catering to. They’re not as loyal as they used to be.

Just sayin’.

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