For the fans of the NFL, all that need be known is that there was a 2011 football season. This was in doubt for months. No really. How could a $9 billion industry where everyone is making more than they could at any other pursuit be close to a shutdown? Maybe they never really were. But they had their fans thinking that a fall season was about to proceed without the National Football League.
On March 12, 2011, the lockout officially began. But this was far from the beginning of the dispute. In fact, on May 20, 2008, the owners voted to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement. So, they had almost three years to make their deal more palatable to both the players and the owners. And they couldn’t pull it off.
NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw died on August 21st of ‘08. That put DeMaurice Smith in the line of fire. Smith felt the pressure of making sure the players’ interests were protected. The 2010 season was played without a salary cap. Unlike baseball owners do without a salary cap, football owners conducted themselves with the greater good in mind. There were no over the top signings that pushed overall spending to meteoric heights. And besides, all knew that the 2011 season, or whichever season came next would be played with a new agreement that would potentially provide greater incentive for the owners and players to act responsibly.
At the heart of the matter for the owners was the percentage that the players were getting out of the pile of profits. As salaries increased, that percentage grew. The teams were making money, but the trend appeared to be that they would be making less each year. NFL football is as popular a team sport as there is in the land, but to keep it viable, ownership wanted to make sure that profits remained high enough that everyone would be getting a decent share of the pie. Players wanted to maintain a level equal to at least 50% of the profit. Their thought was that their memberships took all the risk and was the reason people wrapped themselves in NFL gear, so they should at least get half of the available prize money. The owners also wanted to increase the season to 18 games. Their argument was that revenue would increase with two more games, even though most teams require season ticket holders to buy preseason games as part of their packages and even the preseason games get televised, though most not nationally. Players were concerned with their safety, considering that the season is already a battle of attrition at 16 games long. Player safety has become a key issue to the participants. With as much emphasis on off season training, organized and in many cases involving contact, players were concerned that their careers were shortening and health therefore deteriorating.
Player ideas for an increased schedule included a second bye week and increased roster spots. But they would still prefer no change in the number of games.
Early in 2011, Roger Goodell, league commissioner and Smith began meeting. Goodell actually wrote an op-ed for the nation’s fans, declaring that an agreement was needed. Consider that a duh moment. On February 17th, federal mediator George Cohen was brought into the process. Hopes were high for a quick agreement that would head off the lockout.
Events of the next few weeks led to less optimism. On March 1st, US District Judge, David Doty ruled that if there would be a lockout, NFL owners would not receive $4 billion from their TV contract if the lockout cost the league actual regular season games. That seemed to add pressure to get the deal done. On March 3rd, the CBA ran out. But, as negotiations continued, the lockout was on hold. The next day, a one week delay was set to try to work out the details of the new deal. Rumors were prevalent during the week in progress. But, on March 11th, the NFLPA rejected the latest offer from the owners and decertified as a union. The lockout began the next day.
As the lockout began, a group of NFL veterans filed an antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were among the players who tried to get an injunction against the lockout. Judge Susan Nelson heard the arguments. And negotiations were ordered by Nelson.
Scheduling conflicts affected the negotiations. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan postponed negotiations on April 20th. Players and owners were still far apart on the previously mentioned issues. Then, Nelson ruled in favor of Brady and the other players and the lockout was ended.
That was on April 25th. On the 27th, the owners requested a stay on the ruling, so that the lockout could continue. That stay was denied. So the owners took their case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and a temporary stay was granted on April 29th. Meanwhile, the NFL draft was conducted under the cloud of uncertainty created by the lockout. The lockout resumed the day after the draft was finished.
For the fans, there would be no contact with their newly drafted players until the lockout was over. For the players, there would be no learning the playbooks, no mini-camps, no getting used to their new teams. The lockout would stay in place until late July. To make matters worse, on May 16th, the 8th Circuit Court issued a full stay on Boylan’s decision which allowed the lockout to continue. This seemed to be just a formality because there’d been little or no movement toward agreement. The legal delays were just delays. The two sides would have to reach agreement or there would be no season in 2011.
Immediately after the 16th, negotiators convened for a short time, and talks broke off again.
In early June, closed door talks began with Goodell and different groups of owners in the Chicago area, on Maryland’s eastern shore, the Boston area, Minneapolis and New York. On June 3rd, the two sides were in court once again, outcome of which was nothing new. Agreement would be forthcoming, so said the participants. On July 5th, negotiations resumed in New York City and they seemed headed for true progress when the 8th Circuit ruled that the lockout is legal. Progress was stalled.
Nonetheless, on July 14th, agreement was reached on a rookie wage scale. Scaling back the huge contracts taken by high draft picks was a priority for the owners. This was a breakthrough in negotiations. Three days later more details were worked out and on the 19th, players reps met to discuss those details. During the week, the owners announced that an agreement had been made, but the players weren’t quite ready to sign the dotted line.
On July 21st, owners voted to accept the deal and the players followed a few days later. Although the Hall of Fame game in Canton was cancelled, none of the regular preseason games would be lost. New rules in effect included smaller bonuses for those players who were drafted high, no two a day practices and no additional regular season games. Kickoffs were moved to the 35 yard line to increase player safety. There would also be a hard salary cap and players would receive 47% of the pie. Even the retired players would benefit from the new CBA.
Most importantly for the fans, they got it done. The parlays and the fantasy football and the office pools will continue. Hail the NFL, the king is back on the throne.
Read more Pro Football Handicapping Information Articles