The NFL players were locked out for 45 days, and only yesterday teams were ordered to open their doors again, and players currently under contract again were able to walk the halls of their home stadium for the first time since the Super Bowl was played in February.
Generally speaking at least, although every player had a different experience—ranging from still not being allowed access to the building at all, access allowed only to their locker or in the case of only the New York Giants, able to work out completely, with everyone acting as if everything had returned back to normal.
Generally there was a lot of confusion, both with the fans (what does this mean), the players (where can I go, what can I do), and the staff and front offices (where can the players go, what can they do).
In all this time you've heard a lot said by both sides. From the very beginning you heard about how bad the owners felt the CBA was for them, almost immediately after signing it back in 2006.
You heard they're asking for billions, you've heard they want more games, you've heard all of that. In return from the NFL—this week primarily—you've heard accusations like the draft is being attacked, the players don't want free agency or that the players are attacking the fabric of the game.
Time and time again you've heard the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell talk about how they feel this situation will be resolved through collective bargaining, and yet you see the developments daily in court, as if the NFL is getting beaten down on all angles without even noticing while they continue to talk about bargaining like they have any semblance of leverage left to bargain with.
Who do you side with?
The casual fan may not be interested in all of this. They may not really even know what's going on, or what has gone on and what lead to this situation.
They might catch a snippet of news here, or a sound byte there and be armed with only half the story at the water cooler when the subject of next year's season comes up.
I'm here to help. I've been following this situation literally for years now. I'll clarify right off the bat; I'm not a lawyer. I'm not directly connected to this situation in any way, shape or form.
I have talked to literally zero people to confirm some of the assumptions I make. What I have done however is a ton of research. I'm great at reading people, I'm great at reading into their words and seeing what they really mean.
I know the reality of the situation, and again, I've followed it closely for a long, long time. I've watched every word spoken on the situation by both sides.
From the day the owners penned their names on the last CBA in 2006 through yesterday when Roger Goodell spoke with Adam Schefter and claimed that the players were trying to destroy the game, I've seen the movements of both sides, where their strategies are taking them, and what's going on.
While I'm not what you would call "close" to the situation, in my opinion that makes me more credible, as anyone close to the situation is only interested in you seeing things from their side while I'm interested in you understanding the situation as completely as it can be understood.
In 2006, the collective bargaining process seemed on the cusp of becoming just as contentious as the current labor dispute has.
The sole difference was that 2006 NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFLPA head Gene Upshaw had a long history together, and finally, by working together, they were able to get a deal done that the owners and players could agree to.
While two teams voted against the CBA (Buffalo and Cincinatti), 30 teams voted in favor of it, and despite reports that owners immediately began looking to 2011—their first opportunity to rid themselves of this deal—owners were quoted as saying things like, "We had to have it. We do have the greatest game in the world, and we got what we wanted." (Al Davis).
Redskins owner Dan Snyder said, "I think Paul did a heck of a job of corralling people."
Collectively—with the exception of Bills' owner Ralph Wilson who claimed he didn't understand the new CBA and Cincinatti owner Mike Brown who believed from the beginning that the labor deal was one-sided in favor of the players.
The deal as it was written enabled the owners to opt out in 2008, but that option would not be effective until the 2011 offseason. All 32 owners voted to opt out when the time for the vote came up, and that led to where we are now.
After the death of Gene Upshaw in August of 2008, the players already knew that a fight was coming with the NFL owners. The owners had literally just voted to opt out of the deal, and the players knew they would need a gun to fight back.
The NFL is a massive organization made up of 32 teams generating a total of $9 billion annually, and as such, the players knew they'd need the best of the best legal minds in their corner.
It was a tight race, but eventually DeMaurice Smith was elected the executive director of the NFLPA, likely due to his vast trial experience, and he began gearing up for the legal battle of his career and of his life.
For while owners seem to think the labor deal is far too good for the players, the players think it's barely enough and don't want to give anything back. The sport has seen significant growth over the past five years, and teams are making more money now than ever before, so why do they need money back?
The NFL teams' answers as to why they need money back is basically this: "We are not losing money now, but trends show that we will be losing money in the near future if something doesn't change. That something, is getting billions back from you guys, the players."
Yes, you read that correctly, and I typed that correctly. The league would like to categorize the additional $1 billion annually that they want as an "expense credit," to be applied to the cost of building new stadiums (stadiums the tax payers generally pay for anyway), and make up for "decreasing profit margins."
What does that mean? "Decreasing profit margins" is a fancy way of saying; "we're not losing money now, but we're making less than we used to, and we're worried we might lose money in the future."
This is the actual reason that the NFL is seeking an additional $1 billion (BILLION) from the players; that they may lose money in the future. Please don't be confused into thinking they're actually losing money now, because they're not, not even close.
The sport is growing like never before, television contracts are huge and despite the astronomical salaries some players receive, the teams make truckloads of money on top of that television revenue by selling tickets, jerseys and $8 beers.
I mean don't fool yourself, the people who work those stands don't make more than food workers elsewhere. Neither do the people in the shops, the front offices or the grounds and maintenance crews.
All these people make an average amount of money with the obvious exception of GM's and so forth, while the team charges you four times the price of any average retailer for items such as keychains, T-shirts, beers and popcorn.
The point is, when there are 60,000 people in a stadium buying $8 beers, you're generating a lot of money just on food and ticket sales alone. These owners are guys who have a lock on a market and abuse it as much as humanly possible.
They're making plenty of money, and for many of them, this isn't or wasn't their only business. They make or made their real money elsewhere. Whether it's the Seahawks' owner, Paul Allen, who made his money as co-founder of Microsoft, or shrewd businessman turned owner Daniel Snyder, the real money isn't even in owning the teams for these guys.
So now we know what the owners want. They want more money. They want it despite the fact they're making truckloads of money, and they want it based on their say-so that they might start losing money at some point in the near future.
They want it based on their say-so you say? Yep. The NFLPA has asked for several years for audited financial statements from all 32 NFL teams over a several year period.
You see, in order to establish a trend, you need multiple years. In order to understand all of the revenues and costs, you need financial statements.
This is standard practice in business. If one business wants to borrow from another business—even if it's just a few thousand dollars or a few hundred thousand dollars, in this case the owners are essentially asking the players for several billion—the borrower shows with the entity loaning the money audited financial statements to support what they're saying, to show that it's true.
While the NFL would like you to believe they offered five years of audited financial statements, DeMaurice Smith says that is a blatant lie. Smith says the NFL offered to give the players two numbers, just two numbers.
An added up number of the profits of teams over a four- or five-year period. A total claim of profit, all 32 teams combined, one number for '06, '07, '08 and '09. The second number they wanted to give the NFLPA was to give them the number of teams that showed a decline in profits over the past several years.
In the words of DeMaurice Smith himself in an interview aired on March 8, 2011, if a team made $150 million in '06 and made $149 million in '07, that would count as one team showing a decline in profits.
This is the backup the NFL has offered the NFLPA to support their request for what is essentially a loan of several billion dollars made over a five- to six-year period from a business partner that you ask to trust you, but whom you clearly don't respect.
So now that you understand the core of what the NFL is asking for—and what they're backing that request with—the other issues are really moot. In fact, I'd say that the 18-game schedule was invented by the owners as a bargaining chip, as a ploy, as a game piece.
Something they could surrender without any repurcussions and hopefully allow the players to feel like they won something. The players' insurance requests, rookie salaries, expanded rosters and limiting training camp requirements are not completely inconsequential, but if these two sides could hammer out the financial end of things.
Well, who can't agree that rookies' salaries need to be reeled back in or that players in a league where the average career spans 3.5 years and often ends in injury need more insurance? These are issues that can be handled when the financial matters are figured out.
So what gives, why has this taken so long? I'll give you my theory.
Back in 2006, the NFL owners didn't fully understand what they were signing. What they knew is they weren't going into a lockout or strike and that they were giving some money back to the players. The players knew this was the best deal they'd ever signed, and that they never intended to move backward again.
Remember, we're just 20 years removed from the players getting free agency. This whole "player's rights" movement isn't even really all that old. Back in 2006, there was even talk of possible competition of a league opening that could compete financially in signing away some talent.
Raiders' owner Al Davis said at the time, "There's always the possibility of a new league." He went on to say, "You have to understand it. I do. I lived it. I coached and was a commissioner of a new league that forced a merger. I know how to do it. I really believe the numbers are there where it would be very simple to have a 10-team league. You see with no cap and no draft and no agreement with the players."
He was basically saying that not only was the possibility of a new league very real, but it wouldn't be too hard to accomplish in the current environment, and that was with a CBA still in place!
Owners signed that CBA knowing that they could live with what they'd given up, that they weren't slipping one past grizzly veteran Gene Upshaw, and that lame duck commissioner Tagliabue wasn't going to let them go into a lockout, allowing that to define his career.
What you see now I believe, is the owners testing new executive director DeMaurice Smith. I believe that behind closed doors, the owners just want to see if they can get some money back, that's it, this started out as just a game to them.
I think the owners didn't really buy the bluster of DeMaurice Smith, and they wanted to see if they could push him around a little bit. Look, the league is clearly making money, again by the truck load. If they weren't, you think those books would be open and they'd be showing the world how badly they need billions?
The owners just see more and more money coming in the doors and want a bigger piece of the pie, that's the attitude that got them to where they are now, and that's the attitude they'll always have. If we can get one over on you, if we can squeeze a few bucks out of you, we will.
For the owners, they came into this situation thinking that there really wasn't anything to lose. They likely figured they'd make a ridiculous offer, negotiations would go from there, and if it ended with $1 more in their pockets at the end of the day, then they had won.
They always figured they'd negotiate some sort of agreement at the table, but they never thought the players would decertify.
The owners wanted to play games, and the players did not. The owners continued to give on points, asking for less and less money as the negotiations went on but always refusing to give the players the financial statements to support their request, and thus the players never wanted to give a dime.
Their basic question still goes unanswered. Why do you want the extra money? The NFL just kept moving their offer down, ignoring the question as if it hadn't been asked, just continually trying to get something, anything back from the players, anything to get another dollar.
DeMaurice Smith and the players got sick of this. Imagine asking something of a side who just keeps asking the same question over and over again. Imagine dealing with your kid, or a friend asking to borrow $50.
You say, "What for?" and they reply, "Just trust me, I need it". You say, "No, it's half my money, I can't do it." They say, "OK, well what about $45?" And so forth.
Just prior to the deadline the NFL was at about the equivalent of $5 in our example, rumored to be giving on every issue and asking for just a few hundred million per year as opposed to the near billion they were looking for at the beginning of this process.
Finally, Smith and the players said, "You know what, you want to screw with us? You want to play, OK, let's play for real, we're taking the kid gloves off."
I strongly believe they did take the NFL by surprise by decertifying. The NFL thought they were making the players a good enough offer to keep them at the table for another week or two. Again, they always thought they'd settle, and if it was for any extra dollars back they were fine with that, the key was keeping the players at the table, something they failed to do.
Ever since the players walked away from negotiations, the NFL has clearly been scrambling for a legal strategy, they were obviously never prepared for any sort of court proceedings, while the NFL (lead by litigator DeMaurice Smith, their gun) were more than ready for such a battle.
They quickly filed an anti-trust suit against the league. Now most people don't really understand what that means right? I know I sure didn't in my days of "casual fanness," so let me help you out with that.
The NFL is just a business, the same as Staples, McDonalds or your office building. They're a business that operates with a very interesting set of rules however and a business that also monopolizes their trade.
They are essentially the only legitimate place a football player can get a job making what they make, this makes them a monopoly. Now the only reason NFL players get their jobs through a draft while you and I send in resumes, cover letters and fill out applications is collective bargaining.
The one thing that makes a trade of a worker (a player) between two competing businesses (two teams) is legal because players collectively bargain and collectively agree to that as an acceptable way to operate their business.
By signing a CBA they essentially agree to be traded if they're traded, to be drafted through a draft, etc. They agree to everything that makes the NFL the NFL in other words.
Roger Goodell has been seen on the airwaves making some pretty serious accusations, some inflammatory statements without fully explaining them. He's basically no better than a reporter grabbing at snippets of statements to tilt an opinion or a statement, to make it seem like one has said something they haven't, to lie to their audience by omission rather than outright lying. That is what Roger Goodell is doing.
When he sits down and talks to the cameras, when he says the players are attacking the fabric of the game, what he's really saying is, "I believe you, the fans are stupid, and you don't know enough to know what I'm saying is a blatant lie."
He's counting on the fact that you don't know what's going on in intricate detail, and that Adam Schefter doesn't have what it takes to point this out in the interview. He's hoping to regain some PR for—my guess—himself.
No commissioner has ever taken the criticism from players that has been leveled at Goodell. By the end of this, I wouldn't be shocked if he were no longer the commissioner. He's been ineffective at best in this legal battle, and the players clearly have no respect for him.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason recently referred to him as "a joke," and that's just the beginning. But that's a different discussion.
Goodell is telling you your favorite aspects of the game are being attacked, this is technically true. You see, when the players decertified the CBA ceased to be essentially, as the NFLPA with whom it had been negotiated also ceased to be.
Thus, the legality of these abnormalities in American business—a draft, a salary cap, trades—these things became illegal. It is now as legal to trade Kevin Kolb as it would be for your boss to trade you.
Yet these things are still written into the NFL by-laws; they're still written into the fabric of the NFL. They are really the things that make up the league as we know it, and that's true.
But when you attack the owners in court, you attack the whole thing; you don't just pick and choose. What the players are saying to the owners by attacking these things in court is NOT, "We don't want the draft or a salary cap."
What it IS, is, "Don't screw with us because we could tear this whole thing down, and we'll do that before we give you another dime."
So what will end up happening you ask? Well, the NFL will settle, believe that.
They'd love for this process to have dragged out long enough for players to miss some checks, they'd love for the NFLPA to have been unable to decertify. They'd really love that. They'll lose that case however, when the decision comes down on May 12.
They'll continue to lose in court, they'll be forced into a business as usual state by the courts, in which they operate under last year's rules, and then they'll go back to the bargaining table and quietly give the players everything they had and maybe more.
The owners pushed the players to court, the players were sick of being played with and I've heard it said that once you pull the a$$hole card, you can't put it back in the deck. The players have pulled that card, and they may never have a chance to pull it again.
They've essentially got the owners on their knees as the owners pray for a decision on May 12 that will come, but it won't come down their way. They can't give up completely now, although they'd probably love to to save themselves the continued embarrassment, but they will once your eyes are elsewhere, likely after the season starts (and it will start under court order).
They may continue to front, they may continue to talk about collectively bargaining. Make no mistake, this is not because they believe it's still an option, this is because that was the only plan they came into this with so they have to believe it'll work.
In point of fact, the very suggestion that collectively bargaining will work is downright silly at this point. The union has decertified, they have the right to do so—as proclaimed by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the '90s—and the NFL simply can't turn the clock back on that.
The courts don't look at the league and smile, they look at the league and see an enemy. They see a collection of rich, pompous, assuming human beings consumed with making a money grab while the remainder of the country toils through the hardest economic times in most of our lives.
In other words, the courts see the owners as they are, and they are treating them as such.
For the casual fan this means one thing: football will happen. Free agency may start by the end of the week, trading players may start in time for the draft. The regular season will start on time, and it will be played under the rules it was played under last year.
The new CBA will be agreed upon sometime during the season next season, possibly even during the playoffs when everyone's attention is elsewhere, and the NFL can quietly give up.
What has played out has been the biggest farce in years, a money grabbing ploy that backfired on a group of rich, greedy owners already making hundreds of millions of dollars every year. They raise ticket prices, food and beverage prices and the price of parking every season, but squeezing you as the fan wasn't enough. Now they want to squeeze their employees too.
They don't care what you think of this because if you hate them that means you love the players, and you'll still watch them, you'll still buy their jerseys, wear their hats and line the owners' pockets. Really, that's the only use those 32 men have for any of us—as players or fans—anyway.
They've shown that if nothing else over the past several months.