It Is Time For The NFL Players To Fold

The appeals court just gave the players a peak at the NFL's hand and it looks a little something like this.

“Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind my sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”

I have long supported the players in the ongoing labor negotiations and while that is still most certainly true, following the latest ruling for the appeals court I believe it is time for the players to give up their fight and strike a deal for the owners.

What we had here was essentially two sides grabbing for as much leverage as possible. There was a CBA. Both the players and the owners agreed to it. The owners exercised their right to opt out and began moving to gain leverage to get the players to agree to a new deal the owners liked better. They did this by ensuring that they would still get paid by the television networks in 2011 even in the case of a work stoppage. The owners dangled the threat of a lockout in front of the players, knowing that they had the bankroll to ride out missed football games. That was their leverage.

The players, who liked the old CBA and wanted to keep it relatively the same, with perhaps some minor tweaks in the benefits department, knew that their chances of gaining leverage were slim. If the owners did not present a deal they felt acceptable during negations, their only hope was to break up their union and head to court. Otherwise, they would have just been a locked out union with no power to sue to get back to work. Their choices at that point would have been to try to get thousands of players with carrying degrees of wealth to try to see if they could last longer without an income than a few dozen rich owners with a gigantic war chest. They had no other choice but to decertify.

I think if we are all honest, whether we agree with the players or not, we can see why the they  took the course they did. I don’t agree with the owners tactics, but I do see why they did it. Their move made sense. It helped them gain the leverage to get what they wanted.

Now, however, the battle for leverage is all but played out. The appeals court has granted the NFL their request for a permanent stay of Judge Nelson’s ruling pending the appeals hearing on June 3rd. That means the lockout continues until the appeals court either upholds Nelson’s ruling to lift the lockout or overrules her.

Unfortunately for the players, the battle appears to already be over. The appeals court, in their written ruling granting the NFL’s request for a stay, majorly tipped their hand as to how they will rule in June.

On page 11 of the ruling, the court wrote:

“[W]e have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the League’s lockout, and accordingly conclude that the League has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits.”

I am no lawyer but to me this pretty much says that the appeals court is going to overturn Judge Nelson’s ruling in June. Sounds to me like the appeals court is trying to give the players a heads up.

“Yeah, you can still come in and plead your case in June,” they appear to be saying, “but you might want to start re-thinking your strategy because we are strongly leaning the other way.”

Basically, the writing is on the wall.

The lawyers for the players will likely tell them that they can still win in June. And why shouldn’t they? There are plenty of billable hours between now and then. I am sure the lawyers want his to go on as long as possible.

If the players are smart, however, they will fold now. They should go back to the table and get serious about striking as good a deal as possible because once they lose the appeal, the NFL is just going to put the hurt on them until they cave. That means they will lose money and we could lose games.

I think the appeals court tipped their hand to give both parties one last chance to get out while the getting is good. If they settle this thing with a new CBA by the end of May, a lot of damage will be avoided. Team’s can have some OTA’s in June, free agency can begin and everyone can get to training camp on time. That means the players will get proper training and we won’t see a shortened preseason followed by a rash of early injuries or sloppy football because of a lack of practice.

If the players realize their situation and return to the table before the appeal, the owners might be a little more willing to give up some ground. While I believe the NFL is prepared to miss games (and I think that is despicable) it would be better for them if things got back to normal as soon as possible. Striking a deal now would certainly help the league from taking any more a PR hit and giving up some ground to the players, despite having all the leverage, would make them look a little bit less like a bully. Instead of kicking the players while they are down, they could offer a deal that is even more favorable than the one they offered before the union decertified. It would be an olive branch that could not only help repair the relationship between the league and it’s product (the players) but also with the fans.

I really believe the players giving up their litigation and striking a deal is their last best hope. The NFL has all the cards. The players have to get out now…

Or bust.

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