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League rejects “lock-in” bargaining proposal

Last week, NFLPA Executive Director De Smith suggested that the league and the union engage in five days of intensive negotiations in January 2010 in order to reach agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the start of the uncapped year in March 2010.

And the league has rejected this offer.

“We proposed a ‘lock-in’ to avoid a lockout,” NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal, “and we were met with,
‘That is not going to happen.”

Though the phrase “‘lock-in’ to avoid a lockout” might have some appeal to trial-lawyer types like Smith, it’s misleading. The labor agreement doesn’t expire until after the 2011 draft. The better title would be “‘lock-in’ to avoid a player mutiny once the uncapped year arrives and player salaries get dumped and teams cut spending as the salary floor evaporates and players who thought they were going to be free agents aren’t free agents.”

But that’s a bid too wordy.

We’ve pointed out multiple times that the best deal gets done when both sides agree that the clock is close to striking 12. For the union, that moment appears to be the start of the uncapped year. For the league, there’s no sense of urgency to do a new deal before March 2010.

Comments from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello to Mullen confirm that the league is prepared to treat the expiration of the current CBA as the true deadline for doing a new deal.

“Our only goal is to reach an agreement, and in order to do so we will
meet with the union as often and as intensively as possible,” Aiello said. “Artificial deadlines are not useful in collective bargaining and we
don’t think setting one here is in anyone’s interest.”

This doesn’t mean that a deal can’t get done before the start of the uncapped year. But since the union has now demonstrated a clear desire to do a deal before the start of the next league year, look for the NFL to take full advantage of the resulting leverage, and to make an offer that tilts heavily toward the league’s interests.

If, as it appears, the union fears a player uprising in 2010 once the realities of the unfloored year begin to emerge, the union might take the last, best offer the league makes before March 1.