Labor Unrest on the Horizon

Street Talk Labor Unrest on the Horizon

Posted in Street Talk
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I was speaking with an NFL front-office official earlier this season and he predicted a work stoppage in 2021.

The current collective bargaining agreement between owners and the NFL Players Association is scheduled to expire prior to that season. The acrimony between the two sides has been growing over the last several years and the players are determined to get a bigger share of the wealth the league generates.

How serious is the threat of a work stoppage?

Many teams have implemented specific language in the contracts for their coaches dealing with payment, or lack thereof, in the event of a strike, according to ESPN

In contract negotiations with teams and coaches this year, specific language has been included to address how much each coach would make — or lose — in the event of a work stoppage. Perhaps, this is holding up the negotiations between the Ravens and John Harbaugh over his contract extension. 

It’s no secret the NFL players have the worst collective bargaining agreement among the major sports. In 2011, the owners locked out the players for three months while the sides negotiated a new CBA. 

The stakes are even higher this time around. 

Overall, there have been eight lockouts — 1968, 1970, 1974, 1982, 1987, 2001 (referees), 2011 and 2012 (referees). In 1987, the NFL used replacement players for their teams. An additional 15 percent of the NFLPA’s players chose to cross picket lines to play during that strike, which created even more acrimony.

The league’s revenue has continued to increase, but the salary cap for players has only gotten marginally higher. In 2016, an arbitrator ruled that NFL owners withheld more than $100 million from players. The arbitrator then ordered the owners to return funds to a shared revenue pool.  

This time, the players appear more prepared to fight together to get a bigger share of the league’s revenue. My league contact said a work stoppage is “inevitable” because the two sides are so far apart on a compromise.  In addition, many of the players contend Commissioner Roger Goodell wields too much power and is unfair when it comes to disciplinary actions. 

“If there’s no re-negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement and we reach 2021, there is no uncapped year,”NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told Sports Illustrated. “Last year, the last time we went through it, we found out the owners lied and cheated about the uncapped year. So why would I do that again?”

A work stoppage certainly would further alienate many fans.

Is the NFL willing to take a risk on losing a substantial number of supporters?

The players appear ready to deal with that type of fallout. 

“All of the mutual benefits that were supposed to happen as a result of the opt out didn’t happen last time,” Smith said. “Owners colluded with each other. We found out they colluded with each other.  All of the bad things that went to the players happened and all of the bad things that went to the owners didn’t happen. We have a new deal where if it doesn’t get fixed, you head into a certain small-A armageddon.”  

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Todd Karpovich

About Todd Karpovich

Todd Karpovich has been a contributor for ESPN, the Associated Press, SportsXchange, the Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets nationwide. He is the co-author of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Baltimore Ravens Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box,” “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” and the author of “Manchester United (Europe's Best Soccer Clubs).” Karpovich lives in Towson with his wife, Jill, daughters, Wyeth and Marta, and a pair of dogs, Sarah and Rory. More from Todd Karpovich

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