Before the lightning round known as NFL free agency 2012 begins and players head to training camp, let's take a moment to review the key playmakers in navigating the owners and players toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
Some are givens (can you say commissioner and union head?). Others are overlooked (think robe and gavel). At any rate, the lockout is over and here are some of the central figures from doom (March 12) to delight (July 21).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: Called everything from a "liar" to a "joke" and a "fraud" by players and perceived as lacking complete authority to make critical decisions, Goodell cruises away from the offseason of discontent having helped keep the money train on track.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith: Three years into the gig after leaving a prestigious D.C. law firm, the relative newcomer was labeled as more inclined to litigate than negotiate. That litigious spirit culminated in Smith getting his union on board to decertify and enlisting star QBs Tom Brady(notes), Peyton Manning(notes) and Drew Brees(notes) to be the central plaintiffs in an antitrust suit. However, Smith or a future union head pulling off the latter feat again may be highly unlikely.
Judge David S. Doty: Perhaps the most significant blow at a perceived willingness by owners to sacrifice the 2011 season was Doty's decision in March that prevented owners from accessing the television payments for the upcoming campaign.
Judge Susan R. Nelson: Nelson's big judgment didn't have the lasting impact of Judge Doty's aforementioned ruling, but here impact was felt. Nelson's lifting of the lockout right before the NFL draft was followed days later by a temporary stay. Her judgment was then ultimately overturned. However, she made a significant appointment that got the two sides in line.
Magistrate Arthur J. Boylan: Assigned by Judge Nelson to mediate, Boylan's involvement and persuasion reportedly helped Smith and Goodell form a more amicable relationship, leading to improved dealings between the owners and players.
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals judges Kermit Bye, Steven Colloton and Duane Benton: The judges ultimately overturned Judge Nelson's order to lift the lockout, but Bye also put pressure on both sides in June to talk and work out their differences through negotiations instead of in the courts.
NFL lead attorneys Jeff Pash and Bob Batterman: Pretty much from the moment Batterman was added to the NFL's legal team in 2008, the players' association believed owners were intent on locking them out during the 2011 campaign. After all, Batterman, who also represents the NHL, was involved in labor negotiations when that sport's lockout led to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. In this case, Pash and Batterman's main strategy was to fight the union's decertification, declaring that the move was a sham.
Lead NFLPA attorneys Jeff Kessler and Jim Quinn: The pair's strategy was pretty simple: argue that the owners did not have the legal right to lock out players who were no longer operating as a union.
Labor committee (Pat Bowlen, Mike Brown(notes), Clark Hunt, Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara, Mark Murphy, Jerry Richardson, Art Rooney and Dean Spanos): This group of 10 owners/CEOs had its good cop (Kraft), bad cop (Jones), peacemakers and voices of reason (Murphy and Mara) and crazy old man (Richardson) who got everyone all fired up.
NFLPA executive committee (DeMaurice Smith, Charlie Batch(notes), Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins(notes), Domonique Foxworth(notes), Scott Fujita(notes), Kevin Mawae(notes), Sean Morey(notes), Tony Richardson(notes), Jeff Saturday(notes), Mike Vrabel(notes) and Brian Waters(notes)): Led by Smith, the group made sure the players remained united through the process. There was some sniping from Antonio Cromartie(notes) before the lockout and there was a report that mid-tier players felt their best interest wasn't being represented. But up until the end with the Jackson-Mankins snag, the committee managed to seemingly keep everyone aligned.
Antitrust's leading men (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady): Historically, the players' association has had a hard time getting its top quarterbacks to help fight for the cause. Somehow, Smith & Co. was able to establish a tremendous show of solidarity by having three potential Hall of Fame signal callers go after the league with a lawsuit.