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League’s labor lawyer says union wants lockout

Helmet-to-Helmet Hits Football

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks at a news conference during a tailgate-style rally in support of the players union at a bar in St Paul, Minn., Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)


Last year, whispers persisted that the NFLPA was talking so much about a lockout because the union actually wants a lockout. (Executive director De Smith scoffed at that claim during an appearance last July on The Dan Patrick Show.) Now, the NFL’s chief outside labor lawyer has publicly made that accusation.

“This is not a union eager to avoid a lockout,” Bob Batterman told Mark Maske of the Washington Post. “This is a union waiting for a lockout to occur.”

The theory that has been making the rounds not just in NFL circles but within the halls of the NFLPA’s Washington, D.C. offices is that Smith and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler believe that, after a lockout is imposed, the union will be able to exert the greatest possible leverage against the league, via political pressure or the court system.

“If you want to litigate, if you want to get Congress involved, you want a lockout to occur and you want the clock to run out [on negotiations] so your decertification and litigation strategy can come into play,” Batterman said.

(Yep, we’re already taking steps to get Batterman on PFT Live next week.)

The notion that the union wants a lockout arguably is bolstered by the union’s presumption a lockout will be implemented automatically by the NFL at the moment the current labor deal expires, as of midnight on March 4. But that’s not the case. Just as the players can work without a contract and opt to walk out at a moment of heightened leverage, the league can do the same.

“Our options are to lock out or not lock out,” Batterman said. “A lockout does not have to begin on the first day after expiration.”

Batterman declined to say what the league will do if March 4 comes and goes without a new deal. The union is bracing for a lockout. And, per Batterman, welcoming it.

Within that context, can a new deal be done by March 3?

‘There is time if there were two things -- a serious partner who wanted to get a deal done by March 3, and I have serious doubts about that, and if we spent serious time getting it done,” Batterman said. “It’s do-able if there were a desire to reach a serious compromise. Without that, it doesn’t matter if there’s 50 days or 500 days.”

This gets back to one of the points made in our recent item on the 10 things to know right now about the labor situation. Smith possibly believes he can’t do a deal by March 4 because it will appear that he didn’t engage in a sufficient fight against the league. If, of course, the parties spent more time meeting and less time bickering, Smith could sell to the rank-and-file that enough blood, sweat, and tears had been shed in advance of the expiration of the current deal to justify a new one.