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Mort: League privately says there won’t be a total shutdown

NFL Lockout Looms As Negotiations Are Extended

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - MARCH 03: A view of Sun Life Stadium behind a locked gate as the NFL lockout looms on March 3, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Mike Ehrmann

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has squeezed out a couple of tweets this morning regarding a portion of Roger Goodell’s PFT Live interview that was sufficiently compelling to make it onto the ESPN cablewaves on Wednesday. For those of you who missed it, Goodell did not remove from the table the rumored option of shutting down all business operations in the event the lockout is lifted by the courts.

Mort reports that which Goodell didn’t say -- a full shutdown won’t happen.

“As prominent NFL man says, please ignore concept being floated that NFL could shut down business if lockout lifted,” Mortensen writes on Twitter. “Not a chance, he says.” Mortensen later dismissed Goodell’s failure to take the option off the table by saying without elaboration, “I wouldn’t use it as a barometer of what’s real here.”

For clarity, we never said the league had decided to shut down if forced to open the doors to players. We reported that it was an option being discussed. And we stand by that, even if the option is being discussed solely as a way to vent the frustrations of billionaires who are accustomed to getting their way and who haven’t very often in the past 62 days. And we assumed (incorrectly, as usual) that Goodell would dismiss the possibility with the same clarity that he has dismissed the concept of replacement players. When he didn’t, the story grew legs.

Since some in possession of cheeseheads made of tinfoil think that the league planted the rumor with PFT so that we’d ask Goodell the question and that he’d then provide an obtuse response aimed at scaring the players, here’s our take on what happened. We think Goodell opted in response to the question to resort to the league’s talking point when it comes to the post-lockout rules that would be imposed, and that he didn’t realize his failure to specifically say “there won’t be a complete shutdown” would be regarded as newsworthy. He does a lot of extemporaneous speaking, he was shuttling between appointments on Wednesday, and he can’t be expected to be pitch perfect each and every time.

So we think the league is now trying to control the situation by leaking that a complete shutdown isn’t an option. It’s a smart move, for a variety of reasons. Apart from consistently growing fan anger and frustration, the NFL doesn’t need the three judges in St. Louis who’ll decide whether to issue an order that the players should be permitted to return to work to think that the league is devising strategies for defying an order that the players should be permitted to return to work. If that happens, the three judges in St. Louis could be more inclined to order that the players should be permitted to return to work.

That’s ultimately why I thought Goodell would respond to the question by taking the shutdown option off the table, and that’s why I now believe that the league has decided to leak the notion that it won’t happen to Mort.