With a weekend in tow for everything to marinate, both sides of the NFL labor war have pulled the pins from their grenades. The NFLPA filed for decertification at 5:00 p.m. EST on Friday, and at midnight -- the official ending of the league year — the owners locked the players out of the game. This after more than two weeks of mediated negotiations that fell apart when the two sides could not agree in the level of financial disclosure the owners would provide in exchange for the request for an additional billion dollars per year in cost givebacks.
Post-negotiation, both sides have made their positions abundantly clear. "The NFL left the players no choice," the former NFLPA said in a statement. "The protections afforded by federal anti-trust laws that prohibit illegal corporate behavior now offer the players the best chance to prevent a lockout and protect themselves and their families. Under federal law, the players understand that they must relinquish union affiliation to pursue their anti-trust case."
"As you know, the union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They've decided to pursue another strategy and that is their choice. But we will be prepared to negotiate an agreement and get something done that is fair to the players and fair to the clubs."
Now, the onus is on the players — for they are a group of players with their union dissolved — to bring legal remedy to the situation by filing an antitrust suit in the Minneapolis court of Judge David Doty, claiming that the owners have engaged in anti-competitive acts by imposing a common draft, franchise tags, and other player allotment practices. This they have done, in a lawsuit named 'Brady v. NFL' that actually names several plaintiffs in addition to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and potential top-five draft pick Von Miller from Texas A & M are among the names represented in a suit that will most likely be heard by Doty early next week.
There are a few ways this could go. The owners have already filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that the union's decertification is a sham done simply for the sake of legal maneuvering. If a judge agrees with that concept, the antitrust strategy could be barred, but the chances of that happening are minimal. What is more likely to happen is that the players will file for a temporary restraining order, asking the judge to injunct the owners from locking them out, based on that antitrust language. At that point, Doty could grant the injunction and order arguments from each side regarding the validity of the decertification, and the legality of the lockout.
In 1989 — two years after the NFL's last work stoppage -- the union was allowed to decertify , the lockout was barred by the courts, and the NFL played on through the existing agreements until 1993, when the "Reggie White Rule" (so named because the late, great White lent his name to the players' fight against limited free agency and for a more open market. It's quite possible that the same result could ensue, and a few years down the road, the "Tom Brady Rule" could be the thing that leads to a new round of labor peace.
But through the weekend, the only thing to do is to sit it out, wait, and speculate. At Shutdown Corner, we'll have much more on what the possible ramifications might be, as well as a return to the 'Other Shutdown 40' for those who would prefer draft reports to labor strife at this point.