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Don't believe the owners -- or the players


He lied. No, he did.

They won't negotiate. They want to litigate. They will open the books, but only a couple of pages. They want this. They want that. They're billionaires. They're nothing but employees.

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Are you sick of it all yet?

It might only be beginning.

With the NFL Players Association deciding to decertify Friday, it means it's likely headed for a courtroom showdown with the NFL owners. It also means there's a chance for the 2011 season to be played.

But for now it's litigate and not negotiate.

That's what the owners want you to believe is the union's calling card.

The union -- oops the old union since they are no more -- wanted us to believe the owners were evil rich men who took advantage of the poor working man.

If you believe either, you have a zip code in Charlie Sheen-ville.

There has been little in terms of information flow that is concrete in these talks. Both sides want you to believe that they are right.

Here's what I believe: They're both wrong.

They're wrong for stiffing the fans. They're wrong for taking a sport that is by far the most popular and putting the focus on lawyers instead of coaches, on DeMaurice Smith instead of the draft, on mediation instead of evaluation.

This is a time when free agents are supposed to be changing teams, the NFL's second season, which is a sport of its own.

Instead we are left wondering if there will be a real season. The move by the union to decertify helps the possibility that there will be a season. If the NFL had locked out the players as a union, then the season would have been in much more jeopardy. But decertifying means it is more likely that we do have a 2011 season, although courts will decide that. The league can now file an injunction to prevent a lockout -- which the NFL plans to do -- and that would make the league implement a set of rules to guide the 2011 season, which the players would play under if they were to their liking as the anti-trust suit wound its way through the courts.

What I want to know is this: Why did it get this bad?

There are a variety of reasons, but the main one is this:


Greed is good? Not if you're an NFL fan.

The owners want more money. The players want more. I don't blame either. I blame them both.

I am not a union mouthpiece or a management mouthpiece. I think they both have made big mistakes.

This is a $9 billion-a-year business. It should grow by another $5 billion in the next decade. Isn’t that enough to go around?

I've talked to several players in the past month about the potential for a work stoppage. They've all said they could handle missing checks. Now we might see. Saying it and doing it are two different things.

Players were due $200 million in roster and option bonuses last week. Wonder how the wives are handling not getting that?

If the deal the owners say they offered is real -- and nobody knows for sure -- the union did a disservice to its players. According to a statement released by the league, this is what the union left on the table:

 An offer to narrow the player compensation game that existed by splitting the difference. That sounds like it means splitting the $1 billion difference to $500 million. The league also said it agreed to the union's demand for a 2014 cap at $161 million, but a union source said the league wanted to cut $1.4 billion out of the salaries in the next four years.

 Guaranteed reallocation of savings from first-round rookie deals to veterans and retirees. But the league, according to a union source, wanted five-year rookie deals for first-round picks. The union wanted three.

 New year-round health and safety rules and retain the current format of 16 games and four preseason games and cut down on offseason work.

 A chance to establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).

The owners later sent out more information, again favorable to them. The union source balked at all these claims.

I find it interesting that each is trying to spin it their way now. It's a classic case of lawyer said, lawyer said. That's usually enough to make us all puke.

So what was actually offered is up for debate. Heck, how much negotiation there has been is up for debate. One player who was in the room said he saw an owner -- one owner -- for 30 minutes. That's it. Is that negotiating?

What we do know is that we have an outcome none of us wanted for now.

Football is in the hands of the courts. The NFLPA doesn't even exist. The NFLPA's website,, was shut down. A message said, "Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience."

Not as sorry as we are.

It's litigation time. The NFL will lock out players now, and we will go dark -- or the league will put in place its own rules.

The bottom line is this move by the players to decertify might actually save us the chance of losing the season. If the owners had locked out, the season would have been in much more jeopardy.

There has already been one anti-trust lawsuit filed by some league players, including Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to stop the lockout. If that is successful, the NFL could impose rules to govern the 2011 season -- maybe the 2010 rules -- and the season would be played as the litigation made its way through the courts. Or other players could file an injunction if those conditions are restrictive

That could take a long, long time, depending on appeals. As it is now, football business is on hold, although the 2011 season still could happen under old rules, and if the rules are reasonable, players plan to play.

But, for now, it appears there are no winners -- and no football business.

To borrow a DeMaurice Smith buzzword: That's something none of us can dig.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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