Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Well folks, looks like we're headed to overtime.
Unfortunately, the meandering soap opera that has become the NFL lockout hasn't offered anything close to the heart-stopping excitement of a deadlocked football game entering the sudden-death stage. The latest plot twist of this tedious tug-of-war between the league and its players has instead brought out unforeseen confusion on one side, and now a borderline call for mutiny on the other.
And why? Because the owners just may have committed the most historically significant fumble since Earnest Byner's goal-line gaffe that cost the Cleveland Browns the 1987 AFC Championship.
Actually, it may be more apropos to compare the league's public unveiling of its proposal for a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement to former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett's memorable blunder in Super Bowl XXVII, as this gross error in judgement was also the result of ignorant arrogance and shameless showboating.
It's not as if the owners submitted to the NFL Players Association a plan that was unfair or unworthy -- it was the way in which the 600-plus page manifesto that would serve as the sport's guideline through the 2020 season was presented that drew the ire of the player representatives that convened with union head DeMaurice Smith on Thursday night. Add in the conspicuous omission of several critical issues that still needed to be solved before this 4 1/2- month long work stoppage can finally be put to bed, and it's easy to see why the players came out of their conference call feeling a bit resentful, if not outwardly betrayed.
The owners neglected to provide a settlement offer for either of the two pending lawsuits the NFLPA filed against the league -- the Tom Brady antitrust case and the "lockout insurance" ruling in which the league was found guilty of hoarding $4 million in deferred television revenue to help offset the financial losses it would incur if the dispute lasted into the regular season -- nor did it mention a way to restore some $320 million in lost benefits to the players as a result of last season's uncapped year. There are also workers compensation issues that are still a matter of contention, and the two parties remain at odds on the hot-button topic of the franchise tag.
The glaring disregard of those important points isn't what had the NFLPA up in arms on the eve of the league's self-imposed "deadline day", however. It's the owners' take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards the situation, as well as their brazen demand that the union recertify immediately or the deal is off the table, that has the players screaming bloody murder.
In a blatant ploy designed with the dual purpose of preying upon the players' supposed eagerness to get back to work and earning some brownie points with an overanxious public, the owners attempted to railroad through an altered plan while giving the union a stern ultimatum, then had the gall to stand before the television cameras and reporters that converged upon the Atlanta Airport Marriott with a smug air of triumph over their accomplishment, telling all who would listen how they saved the game from the clutches of potential ruin.
It's certainly possible that Commissioner Roger Goodell and his constituents have good reason to feel that way, but equally as likely that the league severely underestimated both the players' intelligence and commitment to the cause. And by doing so, perhaps gave its opponent an unintended spike in leverage in this seemingly never-ending battle.
The grim reality is the NFLPA now has more incentive than ever NOT to recertify and let the impasse linger into the preseason and perhaps even longer, since any missed games would greatly enhance its chances of earning a substantial windfall if the Brady suit eventually makes it to court. That sickening scenario would make Jeff Kessler the happiest man on the planet, giving the polarizing union lead counsel the wherewithal to sustain his self-indulgent grand scheme of blowing up the current system and becoming the Marvin Miller of his generation.
Now, chances are it never gets to that point, as the players still stand to forsake their fair share of money in the event that any contests beyond the just-canceled August 7 Hall of Fame Game are eliminated, not to mention the potential backlash from fans and media that would come from a continued holdout. However, the union now finds itself once again operating from a position of strength, so it only makes sense to use that advantage and broker an arrangement that further favors its members in the coming days.
In spite of the NFLPA's ominous reaction to the owners' strong-arm tactics, this standoff still has yet to reach the Armageddon stage, though it's getting dangerously close. But Thursday's development may just have created another bridge that needs to be crossed before an agreement finally is reached, as it's evidently clear that a troubling level of mistrust continues to exist on the players' side.
The owners approved the measure by a 31-0 count, with the Oakland Raiders notoriously abstaining from the vote due to continued concerns from both a football and economic standpoint.
That's only fitting that in a saga that has seen more twists and turns than the Pacific Coast Highway, the team universally reputed to house the craziest leader in the league may actually be the one making the most sense.
Stay tuned for the next episode of the NFL's ongoing summertime drama.
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