Well, this is a little awkward. NFL owners voted 31-0 (with an abstention by the Oakland Raiders) to ratify what they thought was an agreement with the players, but players union chief DeMaurice Smith told his player representatives in an e-mail that there was no agreement.
Commissioner Roger Goodell went so far as to announce that facilities would open Saturday, and that the league year and free agency would start on Wednesday. He laid out all the plans, with players getting at least 47 percent of the league’s revenue, four-year free agency, and dramatic cutbacks in offseason and training camp workouts over the next 10 years.
For all of that apparent rhetoric from Goodell, apparently Smith wasn’t made aware of it. In the e-mail to the 32 player reps, he said, “As you know the Owners have ratified their proposal to settle our differences. It is my understanding that they are forwarding it to us. As you may have heard, they apparently approved a supplemental revenue sharing proposal. Obviously, we have not been a part of those discussions. As you know from yesterday, issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open, other issues such as workers compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the Players at this time. I look forward to our call tonight.”
Ultimately, the lockout has been lifted. Owners feel like they have an agreement. What are the players looking for? Back on April 26, when a court in Minnesota ruled that the lockout was illegal but the league didn’t open immediately, Smith said “To be in a world where guys are showing up because they want to play football, and they’re being told to go home? It’s petty and small at best. For a world that loves this game and for fans who have done nothing over the last 50 years but be loyal to our teams, I’m not sure it’s the right way to treat our fans.”
A month later, in an interview on PBS, Smith reiterated, “Look, our players want to play football, and we’ve always just wanted to play football.” Really? So what is it? Owners are obviously prepared to open their facilities and open camps. If Smith’s players want to play football, the ability is there. Players think they’ve been backed into a corner here with the owners ratifying a deal players weren’t completely apprised of. But the fact of the matter is that the players, led by Smith, have consistently said all they want to do is play football. That comes into question now, when the ability to play is there, if the players don’t show up.
The biggest victims in this disagreement are the folks in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and this year’s inductees. By not getting a deal done in time to play the Hall of Fame game, the sides have done a massive disservice to Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Richard Dent, Shannon Sharpe, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter (posthumously) and Ed Sabol. Their Hall of Fame inductions will forever be overshadowed by the lockout. That’s what people are going to be thinking about as those NFL greats are inducted on Aug. 6.
Isn’t it amazing that owners could vote on their own agreement, an agreement that players have never even seen, and that players could possibly boycott team training facilities and camps that are open? Both sides have been amazingly disingenuous during the course of the last 36 hours. According to Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, owners thought they had a handshake agreement with players, but didn’t think about the implications of changing the deal before ratifying it. And players were never really all about getting on the field and playing, like they said. They were, as we expected, all about getting the most money and their pound of flesh from the people who buy tickets and consume NFL football.
Any advantage the Rams had by starting early and playing in the Hall of Fame game is by the wayside now. Any credibility that owners had generated with the players seems to be gone. And any shred of trust that the players had with fans … if said players don’t show up … is a thing of the past, too.