WASHINGTON – After spending a few days standing in the cold on the corner of 21st and K Streets in the nation's capitol, waiting for the NFL to resolve its labor issue, I'm starting to get excited by the thought of this dispute ending up in court.
As a reporter, I'm thinking about the possibility of the discovery process in a class-action lawsuit the players would file against the owners after the likely NFL Players Association decertification. It would give a great, in-depth look at the finances of each team, including how much each franchise pays to different employees and what each club counts as expenses.
I'm thinking about the chance for Yahoo! Sports (and just about every other media outlet in the world) to run all that information online, featuring charts and comparisons from team to team.
I'm thinking about the chance for Peyton Manning(notes), Drew Brees(notes) and Tom Brady(notes) to take the stand as named plaintiffs in such a class-action suit and then testify against the league and its labor practice.
I'm thinking about how the NFL will defend the rule it has on "franchise players," which basically allows the league's teams the chance to keep any player from year to year without the open threat of another team negotiating for that player's services. Nowhere else in this country is there a business that openly restrains the personal freedom of someone to work where they want, when they want and for whom they want (which also puts the NFL draft in serious question).
If you're not getting the message here, this kind of stuff is a reporter's dream. It's our version of what the AFC championship game was for Scott. Heck, this might be Super Bowl stuff. Conversely, this is a nightmare scenario for the NFL, a chance for the public to get a good look at where the money comes from and, most importantly, where it goes.
Or worse, a chance for each of the other owners to see how their brethren spends their money. Zygi Wilf will get a full look at Jerry Jones' book. Bob Kraft will get a line-by-line view at Mike Brown. As one member of the union said recently, "The thing the NFL really doesn't want is for all the owners to see each other's books."
That's why the current fight over whether the NFLPA gets to see the NFL's books is so interesting. This is a great negotiating stare down, a real test of the NFL's mettle because there is almost zero chance that the league will give the union what it really wants. Yet the NFL will have to weigh the risk of this information coming out in a lawsuit versus the cost of giving in further on what it has asked for in these negotiations.
On Wednesday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the league is down to asking for $800 million a year in additional cost credits. That's down from the $1 billion the league was requesting until recently. Still, over the course of a seven-year deal (the premise the sides have been working with for now), the players would be giving the owners approaching $6 billion off the top.
And that's in a business that is still growing.
"Earlier [Wednesday] there was a report about information that was offered," Smith said as he exited the bargaining session. "Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn't what we asked for. And according to our investment bankers and advisors, that information would be utterly meaningless in making a determination about whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League.
"We have consistently requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009, well before even our first collective bargaining meeting. We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league's request for a multibillion check written by the players back to the owners.
"The first question we posed to ourselves was, 'How much financial information would you want if you're going to be asked to write a $5 billion check.' That's a sufficient amount of financial information that so far we haven't seen."
In return, NFL vice president and staff attorney Jeff Pash said the union has already received more information than it ever has in a CBA negotiation. While that may be true, the players have also never been asked to take a pay cut.
A huge pay cut, at that.
In other words, this fight is a long way from being resolved. Before it's over, however, the owners have to do a very serious cost-benefit analysis. Is it really worth asking for this money back when there are so many media people who are salivating at taking a look at the books?