INDIANAPOLIS – Are Peyton Manning(notes), Drew Brees(notes) and Tom Brady(notes) willing to put their names on a lawsuit that could give the NFL Players Association an upper hand against the owners at the bargaining table?
The NFL's top quarterbacks are among a group of players who have been approached by the union to become named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the league if the union decertifies before the Thursday deadline. The potential lawsuit would be part of the union's plan to foil a possible lockout and gain leverage in negotiations with the owners.
According to multiple sources, the union has approached the likes of Manning, Brees, Brady and other players who were recently given franchise tags. Among the players who have been designated are Ryan Kalil(notes), David Harris(notes), Vincent Jackson(notes) and Logan Mankins(notes).
"We're considering it," said Frank Bauer, who represents Mankins, the Patriots' standout offensive lineman. Bauer is hopeful that Mankins could end up as an unrestricted free agent if the case were to move forward.
Agent Tom Condon said he would have to discuss the matter with the union and Manning.
The NFLPA had no comment on the matter. "I can't discuss anything like that," union attorney Richard Berthelsen said.
The presence of players such as Manning, Brady and Brees, who is a member of the union's executive committee, is critical to putting pressure on the league and maintaining support for the union's cause. In the 1980s, the NFL got quarterbacks, such as Joe Montana, to either cross the picket line or not be supportive of the NFLPA's agenda.
"The quarterbacks are crucial to this," said one agent, who did not want to be identified. "The reason is that those guys are normally much more on management's side of things because they are so close to the coaches and the owners. For guys like Manning and Brees to step out and put their names on a lawsuit would be really important, especially for the rest of the rank-and-file of the league.
"The quarterbacks drive the league. The owners know that. You can put Tom Brady out there with a bunch of guys and you can still sell it. But if you put Randy Moss(notes) out there with some random quarterback, you can't sell that."
The class-action suit would be similar to what the players accomplished in the late 1980s when Reggie White and Freeman McNeil were among the named plaintiffs in cases that led to free agency and eventually the beginning of the salary-cap era with the collective bargaining agreement of 1992.
The plan, in very general terms, is for the union to decertify before March 3 so that it can file a lawsuit sooner. In addition, the contention of the players will be that they can't be locked out if they are no longer part of a union.
In anticipation of the union's decertification power play, the NFL has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 26. In the charge, the league argues that the union has no intention of bargaining in good faith and has planned all along with decertification.
While all of this is going on, the union and the league are expected to continue meeting with federal mediator George Cohen. The sides finished seven days of talks on Thursday before breaking. Cohen issued a statement Thursday indicating that the sides had moved on some issues, but remained far apart on others.
Several union and league sources said that was, at best, a polite way to say that no agreement seemed likely.
"We're as far apart as we ever have been on the critical issues," a source said.