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NFLPA* gets a taste of the downside of decertification

NFL And Players Resume Court Ordered Mediation

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 14: Linebacker Mike Vrabel of the Kansas City Chiefs arrives for court ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on April 14, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mediation was ordered after a hearing on an antitrust lawsuit filed by NFL players against the NFL owners when labor talks between the two broke down last month. (Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)

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Last week, when we were arguing that all 32 owners should be at the mediation session in Minnesota, a league-leaning source responded by contending that, if all owners should attend mediation, all 1,900 players should be there, too, since they’ll ultimately have to vote on any final offers.

But that’s not the reality. When the NFLPA decertified, the players gave up their ability to vote on whatever offer the players hand picked to serve as the named plaintiffs in the Tom Brady class action decided to accept. Instead, the players who aren’t among the 10 named plaintiffs will have the ability to object to any settlement as part of the approval process that applies to the resolution of every class action. Those players also retain the ability to file their own lawsuit.

Or, as Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reported earlier today, to try to intervene in the current lawsuit.

The players, reportedly of the “mid tier” variety, want a seat at the table. And perhaps for good reason. Under Brady lawyer Jeffrey Kessler’s view of the NFL, there eventually will be no rules of any kind regarding player acquisition -- and thus no minimum guarantees for low-level players. As a result, five percent of the players could make 95 percent of the money.

So, yeah, the other 95 percent of the players may want to have a chance to apply some duct tape to Kessler’s mouth, before he conducts an all-out assault on the draft and free-agency limits and any other restriction that currently keeps the bulk of the cash from going to the superstar players.

Speaking of a need for the placement of duct tape over the primary cranial orifice, linebacker Mike Vrabel may have unwittingly given the NFL strong ammunition to support its argument that the decertification of the union wasn’t legitimate, and that the NFLPA* is still behaving as a union.

“We’re players here to represent players and De works for us,” Vrabel told Albert Breer of NFL Network. “They do [have a seat]. And if they’re unhappy with that seat, we have to vote in a new executive committee, and a new board of reps.”


What Vrabel is saying is that the NFLPA* is still calling the shots, with De Smith and the executive committee and the player reps speaking on behalf the players. But once the union decertified, that all was supposed to end. The NFL players were supposed to become, as cornerback Antonio Cromartie wisely put it, a group of one-man unions.

We won’t be surprised if the NFL files a supplemental brief as soon as tomorrow morning explaining that Vrabel’s comments prove that the NFLPA* is still acting as the NFLPA. That’s a far different argument than the league’s attack on the union’s ability to shut down for leverage purposes. Vrabel’s comments support an argument that the union really hasn’t decertified.

And anyone who’s been paying attention to this knows that, right or wrong, the union hasn’t really decertified. Vrabel’s comments serve only to confirm this fact.

Unfortunately, this development could further complicate every aspect of the lockout and the antitrust litigation, making it much harder to work out a deal with which everyone can live over the long haul. But the owners, who clearly benefit both from in-fighting among the players and gift-wrapped evidence proving that union leadership still views the union as a union, have to be smiling right now, since the end result will be an increased likelihood that the final deal is a lot closer to the offer that was made on March 11 -- the one that De Smith consistently has called the worst deal in the history of sports.