Those who lament fall Sundays as their spouses retreat to watch pro football may be in for some fantastic news when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season.
Sports Business Daily reported Wednesday that NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith sent an email to players advising them to start saving for a rainy day now because a deluge is on the horizon.
“We are advising players to plan for a work stoppage of at least a year in length,” Smith said.
NFLPA Exec Dir De Smith sent an email out to all NFL agents this morning, advising them to urge player clients to save money in the event of a work stoppage.
“We are advising players to plan for a work stoppage of at least a year in length,” the letter states.
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— Liz Mullen (@SBJLizMullen) May 28, 2019
If that is indeed the case, it would be the first time the NFL has lost even one game to labor strife since 1987, when the NFL canceled Week 3 due to a players’ strike before using replacement players for Weeks 4 through 6.
It would be only the second work stoppage since that bleak period of football history. A lockout in 2011 did not affect the regular season but did force the cancellation of the Hall of Fame game in the preseason.
Rumors of a work stoppage in football have been swirling as tensions continue to grow between players and owners for an increasingly large litany of reasons.
There are the ongoing struggles with the concussion controversy as players worry not only about their health in the here and now but about the league’s ability to provide for their long-term care needs in retirement.
Then there is the controversy over players’ national anthem protests. Although the divisive demonstrations died down last season, Smith told reporters in January that the union will do everything it can to “protect our players’ rights.”
There is the more blunt issue of what to do about potentially declining revenues if the previous two issues turn off enough fans that it begins to affect the salary cap.
Players are even raising the issue of marijuana being removed from the prohibited-substances list as more states legalize the drug’s recreational and medical use, according to CBS Sports.
San Francisco 49ers defensive back Richard Sherman has been one of the loudest voices on the players’ side insisting that a work stoppage will be necessary to hit the owners in the wallet and get their attention.
Likewise, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley rallied players to prepare for a protracted war, with his issue being a desire for the NFL to offer the same guaranteed contracts that basketball has had for its players for decades.
On the other hand, the lessons from 1987 and 2011 should give owners cause for confidence should the two sides go to battle.
In 1987, many players crossed the picket lines as they made the calculation between earning their salary and standing up for union principles and decided that with football careers as short as they are, they had to consider their long-term financial health. They suited up, breaking solidarity with the union until the strike collapsed.
In 2011, owners seemed more than willing to give up an entire season, and the players union eventually had to decertify in order to get a deal done. It’s one thing if you’re Tom Brady or one of the league’s other “made men” with more than enough money already earned. It’s quite another if you’re the long snapper making the league minimum.
As for losing an entire season, while that’s never happened in pro football, the NHL owners sacrificed the 2004-05 season in a lockout for what at the time they called “cost certainty” as free agency had threatened to bankrupt several teams.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, for his part, is optimistic that negotiations that began in April will bear fruit long before anyone has to resort to making good on economically devastating threats.
“I do hope it is sooner rather than later,” Goodell said of the new CBA, according to The New York Times. “I think there is great value to all parties, and most importantly our fans, that we get this issue resolved and move forward.”
The Times also pointed out that this time around, the league doesn’t just have its players to think about; labor peace will go a long way toward maximizing the revenue the league brings in from new TV deals after its current media packages expire in 2022.
A lockout or prolonged strike might push the networks to demand a discount, since ESPN in particular has taken a beating on its media rights package.
Getting a deal done not only sidesteps that unfortunate obstacle but benefits both sides with a larger revenue pie to share via the salary cap.
If you need a demonstration of just what a boon that can be to owners and players alike, just look at what happened to NBA salaries in 2016 after the megabucks rights deal that league signed with ESPN and TNT. The salary cap in basketball doubled practically overnight.
It remains to be seen whether negotiations will turn sour, but word out of the league is encouraging so far.
And if everything goes south? Well, the fall leaf walking tours and pick-your-own-apple orchards in October might be a fair bit more crowded in 2021.
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