NFLPA Is Still Playing Checkers

Richard Sherman is telling players to prepare to strike. But, when players sit down at the checkers board, the league is usually years into a chess game that the players weren’t even aware was occurring. Anything that any player, even a stanford guy might have considered against the league, has likely already been fully gameplanned  twenty-five different ways by the NFL. And lets face it, a strike is the ONLY leverage the players have, so it’s not as if the NFL is waiting on the players to stop twisting their handlebar mustaches and with a sinister laugh reveal their diabolical scheme to fleece the NFL. They have one strategy available to them, and they’ve rarely demonstrated the patience or discipline to use it. Assuming they are smart enough to strike, they missed their window, and shame on them for missing it. They got screwed with their pants on, and they set themselves up to do it again in the next round. They needed to strike in 2011, they were warned not to sign, but they took the money and ran. Because they did not strike, in recent years they have time and again telegraphed their intentions for 2021, the NFL is fully prepared for a strike, and here’s why the NFL will win.

Sure once in a while a single player can go rogue and sit out for a few games or just the preseason, but those players usually have one of two things going for them. 1. Some already have large reserves to draw upon during their holdout from a prior significant contract and are willing to gamble on really cashing in, or 2. Others know have a major payday coming to them in a year or two and feel that it’s worth it to sit out to protect the desired upcoming jackpot contract and therefore have no choice but to avoid getting injured during say, the first preseason game. The temporary risk is absolutely worth the anticipated reward, and I can’t say I blame players in that position. That is NOT the position of 75% of these players.

The rank and file players are rarely in a position to hold out as individuals, and they certainly aren’t likely to survive a lengthy strike in order to get a marginal raise for themselves and secure megamillions for the league’s superstars. QBs can take 25% of the teams cap! Exactly how long can Don Barclay afford to hold out with his five tenths of one percent of the cap for the anticipated return he gets for his holdout?(lets assume he’s not liquid due to wise investments instead of wine women and song, but that’s for another post) Even if he starts saving and investing right now how long can he last? And his raise will be marginal because his percentage of the cap is so low. Assuming the players win, his raise still might not match the game checks he missed during the year of the strike. And when that strike comes, even if Barclay does save up, there will be other guys on the roster at that time, guys like a  Geronimo Allison right now, who NEED to be on the field, get their time in, get some plays on tape, and set themselves up for a prime contract down the road. A major contract 3 years from now that gets him 5% of the team’s cap is worth far more than getting himself a .2% raise added to his current contract that only pays him one tenth of one percent of the team’s cap today. The math doesn’t work. It’s better to play, and to secure a bigger share on the next contract than to hold out and get a pittance of the overall pie. Other guys are trying to get their final seasons(and final paychecks) in, and can’t afford to deliberately skip paychecks. The retirement year pay is usually all money they’ll have left to hold them over for a lifetime after they’ve squandered Six Million dollars over the course of 5 years of houses cars, bling, and socializing. That’s most of the league folks. Every team has a Rodgers, a Matthews, a large 10-15 middle range guys, and then 25 or more  ‘affordable’ players that allow the team to stay under the cap while Rodgers and Matthews alone take up 33% of the cap space. Rodgers and Matthews can ‘do the right thing’ and hold out, but the rest of the players are not only harmed, but they might not even make enough money from the holdout for the holdout to ultimately pay for itself. Which leads to…..

NFL Strategy Number 1, old reliable: Do nothing and watch the players implode. Once they implode, decide whether to really make them squirm and start taking benefits off the table that you’d offered earlier in negotiations as an incentive not to strike. Really teach them a lesson for striking.Miss a paycheck, and watch the players scramble back to the table and sign whatever sorry deal the NFL offers. Works every time, but this time….the players are mad and might keep up the charade of a strike a bit longer. This might need to be dealt with, as we don’t want to be losing revenue during the strike.

So back to my original point, the NFL is light years ahead of players, and if Sherman is squawking about a strike today, that means the league had already contemplated everything from a minor negotiating distraction to a major labor disruption, probably at least three years ago if not the day after the last deal was signed. And to really hammer home my point, observe that at exactly the time Sherman is beginning the discuss the possibility of preparing for a strike, the NFL is announcing that they have nearly finalized a developmental league. And this developmental league will be full…..wait for it…..hungry football players that are being paid peanuts for the opportunity to improve and get promoted to the league. Developmental leagues do not make money. The goal of this league is to create a pool of possible NFL players. There isn’t a real lack of talent these days, so what other purpose might this league serve?

This leads to NFL Strategy Number 2. After the last round of negotiations and the way labor relations have gone in the years to follow, the chance of a labor disruption, however unlikely a lengthy strike would be, is at the very least a credible threat. And the last time that happened, the NFL definitely had to cave in more than they ever intended, because the replacement players they trotted out there simply weren’t good enough to maintain an acceptable level of quality product. Eventually, because they couldn’t sell a quality product, they had to pay the players. They had no real talent crossing the picket lines, and they paid the price because nobody would give them money to watch bad football. Despite the negative comparisons to the ultra powerful mlbpa this was a MAJOR victory for the players and a heavy blow to the league. Why? Because when the strike ended, both the players AND the owners were hurting for money, so they collectively came up with an agreement instead of the NFL just dictating terms. Think they’ll allow that to happen again if it is in any way avoidable?

A professional sports league isn’t just thrown together at the last moment. This is a large venture, and the NFL has announced they’re kicking off in about a year. That means this has been in the works for at least one year right now, if not much more. And by 2021, assuming the players can maintain the discipline to walk out the door for a lengthy strike, the NFL will have a ready made group of trainees ready to step in, receive a tremendous raise in salary, and put on a fairly professional show that will have a chance to maintain the viewers and cash flow long enough to outlast the striking players. And, it’ll cost them virtually nothing to play the long game and have a full league of inexpensive replacements ready to go by 2021.

On the NFL side, this was set in motion YEARS AGO, and the plan is firmly in place today, first stage begins in 2018, full implementation is ready in 2021. Plenty of time to get the replacements trained and professional-ish. On the player side, today Sherman is speaking up about preparing for the possibility of a strike. If the players were playing chess, they’d have started years ago building a warchest to pay players during the strike, and they’d be finding a way to equalize contracts at least enough so that it becomes worthwhile for an Allison or Barclay to hold out and get Brees some more millions. Alas, they’re not doing that. They’re doing what they always do, playing checkers.

In the meantime, the NFL is setting the table and lying in wait for their predictable and undisciplined opponent.

That my friends, is how we play chess. Is there by chance a chess club at Stanford?

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