On Monday, the NFL received news that it has the right to lock the players out pending a hearing to be heard on June 3rd in St. Louis. This was called “a huge win for the owners,” but in hindsight it’s not surprising. The Eighth Circuit has doubts whether the district court had jurisdiction to hear the case, which is a common way out for judges in many cases. That doesn’t mean the Eighth Circuit is wrong, and it should have been expected that the NFL's claim filed with the NLRB has jurisdiction until the investigation is complete. This is a ruling against the players and the fans because the prospect of a shortened lockout just got a lot longer. Now the players might decide they have to go the distance with their antitrust lawsuit.
Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy is one of the lead negotiators for the NFL. He recently spoke to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and said that the league wants to negotiate, but the players “are pursuing [a] litigation strategy” and “need to get back to collective bargaining.” It’s a bit obvious the players “are pursuing [a] litigation strategy” when they filed an antitrust suit, but what he means is that the players are determined not to listen during mediation because they think they can get a better deal through the courts. It’s true the players have moved onto Plan B (decertification and antitrust lawsuit), but the owners know what the players want in negotiations.
The NFL owners want the players to take a smaller percentage of league income in future years. The owners want to fix the percentage (a pegged cap) of league revenue allocated to the players at a rate below expected revenue growth. If the players accepted, it would be the first time since 1993 that the players didn’t share in a percentage of annual revenue growth. The National Football Post’s Andrew Brandt points out that the players also have to make sure the owners are required to spend a cash minimum, too.
If the league were really having financial troubles, the players might take that into consideration, but only if the NFL opens up its books to the players' auditors, which it won’t do. The NFL will only show some selected financial statements.
If Murphy and the rest of the NFL want the players “back to collective bargaining” then the NFL is going to have to offer something. Just having the players and owners sit down again for more negotiations, while Jerry Jones is tapping his fist at them, isn’t going to magically lead to a settlement. But Colts owner Jim Irsay was quite blunt with his assessment via Twitter that he “could get this thing done, on cocktail napkins, over a long lunch.” And Albert Breer has also tweeted that the NFL has presented a new “bullet-pointed overview” during mediation on Monday that the players may consider. But DeMaurice Smith was calling the owners proposal “the worst deal in the history of sports” as recently as last week, so there is still a long way to go.