There is no more overtime in labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
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Talks for a new collective bargaining agreement fell apart Friday, leading the players’ union to move to decertify.
Soon after, once the CBA expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Friday, the NFL owners as expected locked out the players, officially triggering the league’s first work stoppage in 24 years.
"The union’s abandonment of bargaining has forced the clubs to take action they very much wanted to avoid," the NFL announced in a statement Saturday. "At the recommendation of the Management Council Executive Committee … the league has informed the union that it is taking the difficult but necessary step of exercising its right under federal labor law to impose a lockout of the union."
By decertifying, the NFLPA has renounced bargaining rights with the league and is now categorized as a "trade association" of current and former players.
Decertification clears the way for players to pursue individual or class-action lawsuits against the NFL on claims of antitrust violations (i.e. unfair business practices designed to create a monopoly).
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith delivered a passionate explanation for the players’ position to break off talks and decertify, saying the lack of trust was too much to overcome following two years of negotiation.
“So while the players were moving forward, thinking that this was about fairness and honesty and transparency, the National Football League was meeting in secret to talk about collusion, secrecy, leverage and breaking our union,” Smith said of the players’ intentions following the owners’ decision to opt out of the current CBA.
Packers president Mark Murphy told FOXSports.com: "I’m disappointed. It’s a shame. I still think the best way to get a deal is at the bargaining table. They walked away. It’s disappointing because in a lot of ways it takes us back to the ’80s (labor discord)."
Smith said at about 4:45 p.m. ET that mediated negotiations could continue if the league would produce 10 years of audited financial information by 5 p.m. That offer was summarily rejected by the NFL.
Asked if the NFL seriously considered Smith’s proposal, Murphy said, "No. We’ve given them financial disclosure."
In a statement, the NFLPA said it would "move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players."
Later on Friday, in a memo obtained by FOXSports.com, the NFLPA informed certified player agents that it is now a professional association and agents are no longer regulated by what was the players’ union.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remained optimistic about the season starting in September.
"I think the answer is we’ll get it done," he said. "And getting it done means we won’t miss any football. Certainly that’s our goal. . . . Their route of litigation will ultimately result in negotiating (with the NFL again) in our view."
The Friday afternoon news followed a contentious Thursday of verbal salvos between both sides during heated negotiations. Nine NFL owners on the league’s executive committee as well as a slew of NFLPA executives and player representatives were among those who attended Friday’s session at Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters in Washington.
Several legal proceedings are now set to follow, which could continue the impasse into the scheduled start of the regular season.
Shortly after Friday’s decertification, an antitrust lawsuit was filed against the NFL by nine current NFL players — including star quarterbacks Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — and one top draft prospect (Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller). The suit was filed with David Doty, a U.S. district court judge with a lengthy history of favorable NFLPA rulings.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit claims the NFL conspired to deny players the chance to market their services "through a patently unlawful group boycott and price-fixing arrangement or, in the alternative, a unilaterally imposed set of anti-competitive restrictions on player movement, free agency, and competitive market freedom."
The lawsuit also seeks an injunction that would prevent the NFL from instituting a lockout of players until a new labor deal is finalized.
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are New England guard Logan Mankins, San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson, New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel and two members of the Minnesota Vikings (defensive end Brian Robison and linebacker Ben Leber).
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the developments with a short statement as he left the mediation building.
"As you know, the union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify. We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and the clubs," Goodell said. "And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They have chosen to pursue another strategy and that’s their choice. But we will be prepared to negotiate an agreement to get something done that is fair to the players and fair to the clubs.”
Federal mediator George Cohen said both sides could not agree on "core issues" after 17 days of mediation.
"The union left a very good deal on the table," the NFL said. "It included an offer to narrow the player-compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years)."
Jones said: "We certainly were candidly taken aback when our proposal was not met with a level of acceptance that we thought it would be. We really tried."
Prior to the decertification, the NFL filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board arguing that decertification would be a sham. The NFLPA decertified in the late 1980s so players could sue the NFL, an effective legal maneuver that led to a CBA agreement in 1993. The NFLPA later reformed.
The NFLPA’s website, NFLPlayers.com, was seemingly shut down. Playing off of Internet lingo for a broken web link, the site displays an error message that reads: “Error 404: Football Not Found. Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
The biggest issues that derailed negotiations were revenue sharing and the increased "expense credit" that the league is asking from the NFLPA to help cover escalating costs and stadium funding. The impasse resulted in Cohen asking both sides for two extensions last week that extended the CBA expiration deadline by seven days.
The NFL already receives an annual $1 billion expense credit before the remainder of the revenue is split between the league and its players union. The NFL generated $9.3 billion in 2010 revenue.
The league initially asked for another $1 billion in early CBA talks but was believed to have come down greatly from that request. Smith said Wednesday that the asking price stood at $800 million, although NFL counsel and lead negotiator Jeff Pash disputed that claim on Thursday.
Smith had publicly balked at agreeing to any CBA deal until NFL owners "open their books" and provide more financial information about the league’s 32 franchises. The NFL, which consists entirely of privately owned teams except for the Green Bay Packers, resisted doing so and claims the NFLPA already has sufficient data to consummate a CBA.
Brees, who was part of the NFLPA’s negotiating contingent, expressed his frustration with NFL owners Friday morning on Twitter.
"They refuse to give that information to us," Brees wrote. "They think we should just trust them. Would you?"
The contentious stance also stems from Doty’s recent court ruling that NFL owners conspired to create a $4 billion lockout "war chest" based upon payments from its television partners. The NFLPA had claimed that such an action violated the current CBA that calls for the NFL to maximize profits that will be split between the two parties.
Despite the apparent differences between the two sides and the collapse of negotiations, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said, "It makes it more complicated, but we shouldn’t be discouraged. In due course, we’ll have an agreement. I guess it’s just a bump in the road."
Other major CBA issues that ultimately must be resolved include the NFL’s request for an 18-game regular season — a change that Smith has publicly opposed — and a rookie wage scale.