In a move that all but guarantees the first NFL work stoppage in a quarter century, the players’ association on Friday elected to dissolve their union after talks with owners ended without a resolution.
In light of the collapse, NFL players will seek an injunction to prevent owners from locking them out when the Collective Bargaining Agreement officially expires at midnight. Decertification also allows the players to file antitrust claims against the 32 franchise owners.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith walked away from the negotiations at around 4:45 p.m. Friday after the owners failed to turn over a decade of audited financial records. A key piece in the argument over how to divvy up the $9 billion in annual revenue generated by the league, disclosure is just one of a handful of major issues on which both sides remain 100 yards apart. Others include the addition of two regular season games to the 16-game slate and the establishment of a legacy fund for retired players.
Shortly after Smith stepped away from the table, the union issued a statement announcing that it “has renounced its status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the players of the National Football League.” Going forward, the NFLPA will function as a professional trade association, with an eye toward providing support to current and former players.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was quick to respond, saying the union had “left a very good deal on the table.” He also called on the players to return to negotiations immediately, arguing that “the only place an agreement can be reached is at the bargaining table.”
In a symbolic gesture, the NFLPA this afternoon pulled the plug on its Web site. What had been a clearinghouse for news about the labor dispute is now a blank slate; visitors are greeted with the error message “404: Football Not Found.”
A subheadline asks fans to “please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” A redirect sends readers to NFLLockout.com.
While the owners are fighting from a position of strength, their resolve (and cash reserves) took a hit last week when a federal judge ruled that they would not be cleared to collect some $4 billion in license fees from ESPN, NBC, CBS and Fox.
In a tweet to fans, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologized for what could shape up to be a long football drought.
“I am very sorry that you as fans have to endure this,” Brees tweeted. “The NFL brought this fight to us…They want $1 billion back; we just want financial information to back up that request. [But] they refuse to give that information to us.”
Brees went on to promise that the players would keep fighting for what is right. “Past players sacrificed a great deal to give us what we have now in the NFL, and we will not lay down for a second to give that up,” he wrote.