The NFL players seem to have approached the CBA talks with the assumption there would be no deal because they wouldn’t make one, and they would simply decertify and promptly win an injunction against the owners lockout. They considered winning the injunction to be a virtual certainty, and that they would win the appeal of the injunction ruling also. Their worst case scenario was an end to the lockout by July or August at the latest.
The early disbursement of the players’ lockout insurance funds seems entirely geared toward this time table. With a July or early August ruling, players changing teams would still have value and there would still be time for a late hour Free Agency frenzy, pleasing the many players in the league who are currently without a team contract. Players would be paid during the summer and paid again when the season started.
Of course, much of the confidence in this game plan was based on the injunction hearing landing on the desk of Judge Doty, where it would practically be rubber stamped. Alas, the case did not end up on Doty’s plate, like the players were assured would happen. Though the players still exude confidence they will win the ruling, doubt has seeped into their world.
If the players lose the injunction hearing, their bargaining leverage will collapse like a house of cards. A man will risk everything when he has little to lose. But when there are lots and lots of expensive toys at stake, men have little stomach for the fight. They just don’t want to lose their precious toys.
This is a classic case of a bunch of marginally astute (or just plain dumb) people being sold a slam dunk strategy by some conniving lawyers, only to find out that once the case began, it was not a slam dunk at all. The same lawyers who led them into battle will be the same ones now who begin to point out best-case retreat options. The players will start smelling the tale-tell stench of bullshit, but they’ve already been had by the con and have no way back.
The bottom line is that nobody can force the owners to conduct a 2011 NFL season. They can simply say no. The players think they are the indispensible stars and the fans will follow them, not the league owners. But they are wrong. Owners own teams. In cities. Fans follow teams. Cities have stadiums for these teams. Teams with histories that go back to the ’30s. The players are just passing through. Tomorrow, there will be other players.
The players are going to lose this mess and they are going to lose big. They got greedy. They hired a lawyer/influence peddler to lead them, instead of an NFL savvy guy who rightly understood the partnership, and wanted to make it work, not overthrown. For the first time in NFL history, the rank and file fans are not sympathetic to the players. These fans smell the bullshit, too. And are not amused.