It was just a matter of time. According to a report on the Sports Business Daily website, a group of as many as 70 NFL players is close to signing with a law firm with the intention of intervening in the current antitrust case against the league, filed under the name of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. If this story becomes a reality, it will be the first chink in the armor of the players and would give the owners control of the current labor impasse.
Until this point, the players had remained publicly united behind DeMaruice Smith, previously the head of the players union. Once the union decertified to sue the NFL in federal court for violation of antitrust laws, the union ceased to exist. Well, legally it ceased to exist. In actuality it was still very much in existence, just with a different name; the players’ trade association. The NFL has filed a countersuit arguing that the union still exists. It’s all a bit confusing.
What isn’t confusing is that this is a step back for the players in their fight against the NFL owners.
If the players don’t stay united, they have no chance of winning the negotiations with the owners for a new collective bargaining agreement. It would simply turn into a repeat of the last NFL labor dispute in 1987.
Back in 1987, it was the players who caused a work stoppage when they went out on strike. The owners countered with replacement players in order to break the union. The strategy worked when many high-profile players, including most of the Dallas Cowboys, crossed the picket line. That move destroyed any leverage the players had in their fight for a new agreement with the owners. This latest court action will have the same negative effect for the players.
Whereas, the Brady lawsuit includes some of the biggest stars in the NFL like Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, this new group consists of mid-tier players who don’t have multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. In other words, the new action is coming from the group of NFL players who don’t have millions in their bank accounts to withstand an extended work-stoppage. They’re the NFL “middle class”, if you will.
This was always going to be what ended the current labor dispute. It was only a matter of time before it happened.
“We’ve had discussions about representing additional players who want to have a voice in the matter,” said Bryan Clobes of the firm Cafferty Faucher. Clobes said these players aren’t necessarily unhappy with the way the current talks are progressing; they just want to be more involved.
“The players [already] have extremely capable counsel,” Clobes said. “If we were to get involved, it would be so we could add and lend our expertise, not because we thought the current lawyers were not doing a credible job. They’re doing an incredible job.”
Predictably, this is not going over too well with the star players who filed the initial Brady suit.
“We all have a seat at the table already,” said Mike Vrabel, who is one of the plaintiffs in the Brady suit. “If they’re unhappy, then we should get together and elect a new executive board.” Vrabel went on to say that this new lawsuit was not the best way for the players to show their dissatisfaction.
Unfortunately for Vrabel, he doesn’t get to make all the decisions for every player in the league. There are too many players who don’t make millions, yet still spend as if they do. NFL players are gifted athletes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are gifted money managers as well.
This lower-level group of players want their voices heard at the bargaining table. Apparently they feel that their needs and wants are different from the elite players in the league. It makes sense that players from different monetary tiers should be included in the negotiations.
The problem from the players’ perspective is that with so many different agendas, it would be much harder to agree on one plan to use in their fight against the owners. Of course, the other side of that argument is that perhaps these lesser players could push for a compromise that the current player leaders had deemed unacceptable.
Before any of that could happen though, there are a few hurdles to clear. First of all the law firm does not want to go forward unless they have at least 75 players on board. That shouldn’t be a problem. Then this new suit would have to be approved by the courts. This also shouldn’t be an issue, since technically, there is no longer one players union representing all of the players. They are all essentially independent contractors. That may be an oversimplification, but it is the best way to describe the current state of the players in this dispute. If there really is no union, then any players who want to be involved in the negotiations, should be allowed to participate.
This story may very well turn out to be just a rumor, but common sense and previous NFL labor disputes tell you that something like this was bound to happen. Both sides are displaying an unbelievable amount of arrogance and greed in not being able to share a $9 billion cash cow. But while the majority of the owners have other streams of income to help them weather a work stoppage, a vast majority of the players do not.
Now that the “regular” players in the NFL are getting actively involved in the process, it may just speed things along towards a solution. One way or another.