Its official: lockout begins

The NFL locked out its players late Friday, the league said in a statement released Saturday morning.

The move brings NFL business to a halt -- player movement is frozen and contact between teams and players must cease -- and could (emphasis on could) -- lead to lost games in 2011. Right now, only April's draft in a sure thing. We're months away from losing games, though. For now, expect the two sides to fight in court, trying to land a big win that changes the dynamics, and maybe return to serious bargaining once the regular season nears and big financial losses get closer and closer.

"The union's abandonment of bargaining has forced the clubs to take action they very much wanted to avoid," the league said in a statement. "The league has informed the union that it is taking the difficult but necessary step of exercising its right under federal labor law to impose a lockout of the union."

The league added that "the clubs believe that this step is the most effective way to accelerate efforts to reach a new agreement without disruption to the 2011 season" and that players "left a very good deal on the table."

"The negative consequences for the players and clubs will continue to escalate the longer it takes to reach an agreement," the statement said.

The statement confirmed what had been widely expected and reported in the hours after the NFLPA decertified Friday afternoon, setting the stage for a legal battle that will involve the union trying to block a lockout. The league would appeal if the players are successful and challenge the NFLPA decertification as a "sham" intended only to gain legal leverage until this dispute is over.


Choose a side in the NFL’s labor war:

If the NFLPA decertification is over-turned, the players would lose the ability to bring an anti-trust suit against the owners. The union has said the league left the players no choice and had been angling for a lockout all along.

It all went down after the league made concessions on several big sticking points: they reduced to $320 million the amount they wanted back from players each year, according to Eagles president Joe Banner, down from an original ask of $1 billion; the owners agreed to leave the schedule at 16 games for the next two years and require a player OK of any expansion after that; and offered to reduce offseason practices and the amount of contact allowed in practices.

But the players said they never got the evidence they wanted to prove that they needed to give up a piece of their revenue share, especially when the league is generating $9 billion -- an amount that is steadily growing, even in rocky economic times.

"Does it makes sense to you, that if you wanted to prove a point, you would refuse to give whatever evidence existed that would prove that point, unless maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t prove the point," said NFLPA attorney Jim Quinn.

The players still offered a plan to save owners $550 million over four years, or $137.5 million per year, according to the NFLPA.

The players said they were still being asked to accept a salary cap and benefits spending that was lower in 2011 and 2012 than they got in 2009. The combined amounts for those items would have been $141 million in 2011 and $148 million in 2012, compared to $149 million in 2009, the last year with a cap, according to the NFLPA.

Banner said the new cap and benefits numbers would have still exceeded actual spending in past years. Spending projections for the future, however, would have still dipped below those in recent years, according to a document released by the union.