Greed and lack of trust grinds NFL to a halt

Posted: March 12, 2011

The worst has happened. The negotiations between the National Football League and the players union have ceased. The union has decertified and has filed an antitrust lawsuit in the name of three of the game's biggest stars. NFL Network sources said Friday night that the league has locked the players out.

And undoubtedly more layoffs and furloughs and pay cuts will come.

It is football Armageddon.

"I really thought something was going to happen today," Eagles veteran lineman Todd Herremans told me right after the union decertified on Friday evening. "It's weird. I wish I could be a fly on the wall right now. I think it's ridiculous it's even come to this."

But it unfortunately has. It took 16 bargaining sessions over the last several weeks to get here, and it now will take months to get back to football. There will be no draft day trades, no minicamps and no offseason workout programs. The players are now on their own to pay their own health insurance, to get treatment for injuries, and to get in shape for whenever there actually is a season.

Which could be a while.

The negotiations came down to money, and trust.

The union did not trust the owners' contention that in the future revenues could not keep up with mounting player costs. That is why the union called for "financial transparency." At 4:45 p.m. on Friday, union head DeMaurice Smith said that they would grant the NFL an extension only if the league handed over the last 10 years of financials. Fifteen minutes later, when it didn't get what it wanted, the union decertified.

The owners did not trust the union with that sensitive information. What if one owner paid his wife $10 million to "work" for the team, or another had an exorbitant entertainment budget. Quite simply, the owners did not want their business made public or shared with other owners, with whom they compete.

What the union was banking on was that the owners would sacrifice potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for their financial privacy. Initially in negotiations, the owners wanted $1 billion of revenue for stadium construction and upkeep on top the $1 billion they already get, thus reducing the amount of money available to the players.

Earlier in the week, the owners reportedly asked for $750 million to $800 million instead of $1 billion, and on Friday the league offered to split the difference, which probably amounted to around $375 million.

That was significant movement, but clearly not enough. Whatever number the union had in mind - and maybe it began with a zero - they did not get it, which is why we are here staring at a near future with no football.

"The bottom line is me and everybody on our team wants to play football," Herremans said. "We're happy with how everything is now. The owners are the ones unhappy and trying to get more money. If there was the need for more money, they would show us the books."

That is clearly the union's take.

The other big issue is the league's desire to play an 18-game regular season. The players do not want that. Period. As one of its concessions yesterday, the league said that it would guarantee a 16-game schedule for the next two seasons and would only bump it up to 18 games with the union's approval. That sounded reasonable.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted: "I am shocked that the union has walked away from mediation n collective bargaining after the 16-4 format they wanted was offered today. WOW."

Wow is right.

In the end Friday night, each side said it made concessions and then blamed the other for walking away from the negotiation, and each questioned the other's commitment to the negotiation in the first place. The league feels like the union always intended to decertify, and the union feels like the league always intended to lock out the players.

So here we are. Armageddon. It is a disappointing development indeed.

Now, the negotiation will happen in court, with lawyers making their clients' cases instead of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Smith sitting across the table from each other. It will take time, and it will be messy. The rhetoric, as we saw Friday night, will be biting on both sides.

There will be football, eventually, but the wait is going to be painful, and ugly. There will be many unintended consequences, like the loss of jobs and salaries. And trust. And appreciation. And maybe even interest.

"I kind of just want it to be over one way or the other," Herremans said.

He is not the only one. But there is a long way to go now.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AshleyMFox.

 

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