Nice write up on Mark Murphy by John Clayton over at ESPN.com, though there's not exactly anything new being said here. Clayton does a good job of chronicling Murphy's rise from being a union rep when he was a player to the President of the Green Bay Packers and negotiating from the Owner's side of the table in the current CBA negotiations.
I find it interesting that ownership has Murphy and Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Carolina Panthers, two former NFL players, on the owners side of the table and that Richardson in particular was reportedly the one who got up at the owners meeting and made an impassioned speech about how ownership needed to "stick together" through these negotiations. I wonder where he learned such a dedicated sense of teamwork?
And that, to me, is the rub here - both sides need each other, desperately. The league can't run without something to watch on the field and conversely many players would be hard pressed to have more than a handful of onlookers if they organized the games themselves.
It's a popular refrain from the NFLPA at the moment to decry the fact that the television networks that cover the league have been contracted to pay the NFL even if there is no football played in 2011 because of a lockout, thereby providing a supposed "Lockout Fund" for the league. But what they fail to grasp, or at least acknowledge publicly, is that those same contracts are paying their current salaries. Indeed, they are the reason the NFL exists at all. There's no great conspiracy here - the league runs on television money. Sure, there are more streams of revenue being generated now than ever before but nothing comes even close to the slice of the pie that are the checks being cut by the networks.
The other movement being orchestrated by the union is the inclusion and recruitment of retired players into the cause, using the inclusion of retired players' benefits in the CBA as a way to bring all players under the tent, so to speak. It's a nice gesture, if nothing but for symbolism's sake, but does little to advance the actual arguments on either side. And to add insult to injury, here are two former players sitting with ownership, making the case to the players in the union why the league's proposal, essentially scaling back the players cut so that ownership can use that revenue to grow in other areas thereby increasing the overall revenue available to everyone, is the best way to go.
Now, ownership are no innocents, obviously. The whole round of firings that took place last year was just shameful. No one will ever convince me, ever, that any NFL franchise's operations were going to be threatened if these teams didn't fire a bunch of non-football employees. It's beyond absurd, it's cold blooded and ruthless, especially in the current economic environment.
That said, there doesn't seem to be any great mystery to how this will all play out. Either both sides will reach an accord at the last moment, as suggested by Ed Goren of FOX Sports , or as David Cornwell suggests, the union will be forced to decertify in the face of the league's "take it or leave it" proposal. Money quote:
As negotiations progress closer to March 2011, expect the NFL to tailor its collective bargaining proposals so that its final, pre-impasse proposal will have two features: (1) owners will make more money than they do under the current CBA and; (2) when converted into a post-impasse system, a reasonable chance of surviving years of challenges under the antitrust laws.
The NFLPA will face a tough choice if the owners press collective bargaining to impasse in 2011. Confronting a smaller piece of the pie under a new system will force the NFLPA to either strike or decertify. The NFLPA cannot strike, sacrifice players' paychecks, and expose players to public ridicule. In response to an impasse, players will play and the NFLPA will decertify and file antitrust lawsuits attacking each element of the owners' post-impasse system. This may be a risky, expensive, and time-consuming course for players.
Regardless of the outcome of the NFLPA's antitrust challenges, it will likely take at least five years to obtain final rulings. In the interim, owners will save billions in player costs and fans will enjoy NFL football in 2011 and beyond. The open question is whether the ultimate benefit to players will be greater than the cost.
Of course, hanging over this entire proceeding, and the biggest reason the owners were in no hurry to get anything done before the new league year started, is the American Needle case. (Scroll down to the second story) Essentially the league is hoping for an unlikely knockout here, but I highly doubt that happens. My hunch is that the Supreme Court will defer to the lower courts and things will stay as they are. (That said, I know there are readers here far smarter than I when it comes to matters pertaining to the law. I'd love to hear your takes.)
You'll hear lots of propaganda from both sides over the course of the coming year. Just keep the above in mind and remember that it's highly, highly unlikely football doesn't get played in 2011 and beyond.
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