The owners had a pretty good plan. Then David Doty happened.
Thank god for Judge David Doty.
NFL owners have been scheming and dreaming of this week for almost two full years now. And they are more fucked, than they themselves, even know.
Here's the NFL labor situation in a nutshell. David Doty won't LET the owners lock the players out at this point. Once this week of kabuki-style "negotiations" run their course, the players will likely decertify, the owners will lock out, and the players will be in Doty's courtroom .
Doty blistered the owners in his recent decision. He called the the NFL's underhanded TV rights re-negotiations with the vaunted "lockout insurance" not just "bad faith" but actually said it was "unconscionable" in its unfairness, and hello, illegal.
He's not just going to deny the owners their $4 billion. He's going to award the players damages from it!
This is not a judge who will let a lockout stand. He'll almost certainly issue an injunction against the lockout, while the players' lawsuit proceeds. So in effect, Doty will force the owners to keep "marching on" with league business, while the players pursue a new way of doing business on their own - without a union.
So the NFL would then be forced to let teams start spending money on this year's free agents (Danny, get Redskins One gassed up and on the runway!) while simultaneously watching the players sue to overturn various critical parts of the league's infrastructure.
So, how's that simple plan working right now? You know: "Lockout. Collect TV money. Wait for players to cave."
The players don't really want to dismantle the Draft, tear down the , and negotiate contracts, pensions, and all of that one-by-one. But given the alternative, it's starting to look better all the time.
When the owners don't treat you with respect or seriousness, there is no sense reciprocating.
The biggest mistake DeMaurice Smith and the union made was being reasonable. "Hey, we're fine with the current system." That made it look like they had somehow robbed the owners' bank account the last time around.
Smith and the players should have said: "Look, we can continue as we are, but there are some things we really don't like. So if we tear up the agreement, we've got a new wish list."
That list should include eliminating the .
Nothing screws good players, quite as bad as this. is a perfect example, even though he's a uniquely un-sympathetic figure.
Vick had played things straight up, to a point where he legitimately earned the right to have teams bid on him, for what would have certainly been a multi-year guaranteed deal for close to $60 million or more.
Instead, he got the one year handcuffs from the Eagles for $16 million.
And please don't trot out the "I'd love to make that in one year" argument. Everything has to be judged in context. Vick and others ARE the product, in a $9 billion industry.
There is no comparison to "Joe The Plumber."
Compared to other athletes, and other NFL players un-shackled by the "franchise tag" this should be unacceptable to the union.
But then again, they were being reasonable. This should teach them.
If I were the players, I would also seek to eliminate contract end-arounds like the one AJ Hawk agreed to with the Packers. Hawk was a good player that the Pack wanted to keep.
But his contractually agreed upon salary for next year, was too high.
So the team was able to rip that deal up, and sign him for less. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
When players get just a LITTLE bit too expensive teams can adjust immediately and often without consequence. Yet when Chris Johnson blows the lid of the NFL market for game changing running backs, he has to threaten holding out to get a new deal. It's not his fault that the NFL draft and it's geniuses missed on his impact abilities, and thus paid him a slotted salary that was well below market value.
I know, Johnson did get more money, but that's beside the point. Many players, do not. And it is the egregious one-sided-ness of these NFL contracts that should be brought more into equity.
A union-less NFL world would in many ways, be a bonanza for the players. And not just the stars. If you think mid-level players wouldn't get paid under a wide-open system, I give you and as just two examples.
Owners like Snyder, vastly over-paid for these guys, and that was with a HARD SALARY CAP in place!
The money would find the players.
And the stars? Oh boy, hold on to your hats.
What is worth on the true, un-fettered, no-tag, free agent market?
Answer: a shitload more than whatever deal he ends up signing for under this system.
Manning may truly want to stay where he's had success and where the fans treat him like a God, but given a compelling PowerPoint presentation from a quality organization that really needs a "put us over the top" QB, I could easily see him breaking the bank.
Do the owners really want to give birth to the football equivalent of ?
Nobody believes the owners aren't making a ton of money, year over year, not to mention the equity wealth they are building by owning their franchise. The fastest way to "prove" this would be to eliminate the cap, the tag, and the draft.
Which should make the owners pretty damn scared right now, because they have backed the players into a corner. Faced with a truly shitty offer that hasn't budged in two years, much less after 10 days of mediation, all kinds of once unthinkable options, suddenly get thought of in a much more positive light.
If the players were hell bent to decertify and launch the anti-trust "nuclear option", they would have a really good shot at winning on all fronts. But even if the players "only" were able to eliminate the cap and the tags, then suddenly Ralph Wilson's equity stake in his beloved would take a good 20% hit.
Bye-bye, $200 million!
Which brings me to the last point on the owners' collective stupidity.
Key to their "reasoning" is that they need more money to build more stadiums. Okay, let's take a look at that prospect.
How is a mini-JerryWorld going to help the Bills?
There just aren't the corporate dollars in Buffalo, NY to make building a luxury-suite palace a net money-winner. And if you want to squeeze more from regular fans by way of club seats, PSL's and the like, well good luck on that.
A new stadium hasn't done much to help mend the penny choking, small minded, "this is my dad's old hardware store" approach to running the Bengals, now has it? I'm not taking sides with or the team, but how fucked up do you have to be as a football organization to have a former QB ready to fucking QUIT the game instead of come back to play for you!?
If you want a bold prediction, here's one: watch how quickly JerryWorld turns into a bloated, money losing dinosaur of a stadium.
At some point, every football fan in the DFW metroplex will have come and seen the place. They will have marveled at the JerryTron. And if Jerry doesn't fuck it up too bad (odds: 50-50) the team will be worth watching in person in say 7 years.
But the need - no the FINANCIAL IMPERATIVE - for warm blooded humans with money in their pockets to keep buying tickets at sky high prices to sit 3 nautical miles above the field in an all-day Sunday consuming activity, will remain.
That stadium won't be paid off in seven years. But who says fans will still be coming?
I stopped by the Sony Style store in Tysons' Corner mall . Luckily, I resisted the urge to buy anything. But I did gander at their 3D sets and a Blue-Ray in 3D.
It was pretty damn impressive.
As I sat there with these goofy glasses on my face, I got to thinking: what if you could have 3D wrap-around glasses that are wi-fi/4G/whatever enabled, upon which I can watch all of the games in the vaunted "Sunday Ticket" with everyone's favorite crack cocaine "The Red Zone."
Shit, I could watch Sunday ticket from the golf course. From my hammock. From a boring car ride to the in-laws. And the picture quality would melt my fucking face!
Well, you know what. That day isn't just a Buck Rodgers space fantasy. That's gonna happen. Period.
Let me repeat: that day is coming, like after a defenseless receiver.
If we don't have that technology in 10 years, I'll give you every TV I own right now. (Current count: 9 screens, all HD capable). Hell, these will be obsolete by then anyway. Have 'em.
This is the world the NFL owners are blind to right now. They are blind to disruptive technologies that will destroy some of their existing revenue streams, like stadiums and luxury boxes.
Sure, it won't be equally damaging across the board. Some cities, like say and , have a communal joy and vibe associated with actually going to the game, tailgating, and sharing the game day experience.
But at least 1/3 of the league does not. Not even close.
Those franchises will be increasingly left behind, and need further help to compete if the NFL still wants to avoid becoming the English Premiere League or .
And while the owners say: "aha, that's our point!" in regard to the current labor mess, in reality they are just trying to rob a 7-11 at gunpoint to keep their mortgage current for a few months.
Stealing 18% from players who are increasingly on their way to shortened life spans, and brain damaged retirements, is not just morally repulsive, it's hardly a viable business plan to keep the league balanced and competitive.
Better revenue sharing and some hard and honest discussions about market size and stadiums would be a good start.
But, hey, the owners aren't at that point right now. Not yet, at least. They've engineered what they thought was a brilliant, "Ocean's 32" style heist that was meticulously planned for almost two years.
Looks like they are going to see it through, for better or worse.
My parting plea to Smith and the Union: go ahead, make their day.