So now that NFL clubs unanimously voted to shorten the current collective bargaining agreement it seems clear what's next for the league and its players.
|The players won't be giving back any of their gains, Gene Upshaw says. (Getty Images)|
The NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since the 1987 strike, when the league called on replacement teams to replace off-the-job veterans. But after what happened Tuesday morning, it sure looks as if that streak might be in danger.
"If they want out of the deal," a defiant Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players union, warned back in February, "there's nothing we can do about it. But we'll be prepared."
Translation: The players could walk or exercise decertification tactics it used to get free agency after the 1987 strike.
That, of course, is what's known as a threat, and the NFL responded Tuesday by, basically, calling Upshaw and his union on it. If the decision wasn't a surprise, the unanimity of the response should have been. If nothing else, NFL owners signaled they're together on this subject.
And that's why I think we're looking at trouble. It could be a lockout. It could be a strike. But it's definitely a threat.
Remember, the last time the collective bargaining agreement was imperiled was 2006, when small-revenue and large-revenue owners were divided in their approach to the future. Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue pulled them together at the last minute and pushed through an extension.
This time, though, owners are not divided. They're unanimous in their opinion that what they have now is not working, while Upshaw is just as certain that what they have now is. Somewhere in between there's a dialogue waiting to happen.
"Everyone's doing well," Upshaw said in February. "The owners say they're not making money. I think everyone is making money. This isn't hockey where the players agreed to a 25 percent pay cut. We're not going to do anything like that."
Maybe, but there must be changes in the current deal, otherwise you could be looking at future Sundays in September without the NFL.
Look, the NFL's position is clear: It doesn't concede that clubs aren't making money; what it basically says is that clubs aren't making enough money. In a statement issued by the league Tuesday morning it acknowledged "the NFL earns very substantial revenues" but complained that more than half that money -- $4.5 billion this year -- goes to player costs.