The NFL lockout is upon us. This morning, the league finally got around to acknowledging that it shut down as of midnight. You can read the NFL's statement here.
It will probably be weeks before the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis rules on the lockout injunction requested by the entity formerly known as the players' union. Then the owners will appeal an unfavorable ruling, so the league could open up and shut back down again between now and training camp.
Here is a link to my story today, detailing the Friday meltdown that led to decertification and lockout.
And here are a few start-of-lockout thoughts. To me, especially disappointing when the talks fell apart was the way the sides easily clicked into their default positions, making me wonder if 16 days of mediated talks in Washington produced anything, except a perpetually crowded sidewalk in front of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (see photo) and more business for the nearby Starbucks and Subway franchises. (If you sell sandwiches or coffee near the courthouse in Minneapolis, this is a wonderful day for you. Get ready for the world to arrive soon.)
Bottom line, the union continues to believe that the owners were going to lock out, regardless, that the owners feel their best chance to get the major economic concessions they seek is for players, with extremely finite careers, to start missing paychecks and panic.
Management continues to believe that the union has felt from the start that its best deal would be achieved not at the negotiating table but in Judge David Doty's courtroom. The owners don't feel the players really wanted to bargain for a deal.
Sorry to say, there is evidence to support both positions.
You know about Doty's ruling, that the league left money on the table in its talks with TV networks in order to get $4 billion in "lockout insurance." And as an agent told me at the NFL Scouting Combine, you can't go to a bank for a loan and refuse to divulge your financial information, just because you'd rather not. Yes, there are competitive reasons why the teams don't want to make all their data public. But they are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions at a time when the league breaks new TV ratings records right and left. To get what they seek, they ought to be willing to document why it is necessary, document to the union's satisfaction, not the owners'.
Also, I really do feel the major economic problem, if there is one, is among the owners, where reveune disparities are getting bigger. It really isn't the players' issue if Jerry Jones doesn't want to share so much with Ralph Wilson.
On the other side, it's a fact that the union walked away from the table first, and it walked while the owners were making concessions. It's incredible to me that you end the talks on the day your opponent cut his demands in half. It really does seem that some people on the union side (cough, counsel Jeffrey Kessler, cough) seemed to see these talks as an annoyance, and were chafing to file for decertification and get to the courtroom. The one-week extension to the talks almost didn't happen because of that outlook; I wonder now if the players only decided to keep talking for fear of taking a public-relations beating if they walked away too soon.
A bunch of us, after listening to the NFL side on the sidewalk Friday afternoon, went over to NFLPA headquarters a few blocks away for the union spin. It was apparent that union chief DeMaurice Smith was indignant over some of the things said by his opposition when the talks broke off. The leagyue does do "high-handed" very well. But to me, Smith didn't provide a great answer when asked why the union wouldn't approve having the detailed financial data released to an independent third party. Smith said he wasn't going to trust anybody to just tell him to write a check that size, based on their analysis of the situation. Sounded to me like a clever way of evading the possibility that independent analysis would support the owners' claims.
Late Friday night, I emailed Eagles presoident Joe Banner about his week at the talks, spent working on a rookie wage scale proposal. I asked Banner if he considered the week a waste.
"It was one of the most fascinating, challenging and frustrating weeks in my career," Banner wrote back. "Not wasted."
Wish I felt the same way, but I don't.