Monday, July 25, 2011

NFL Lockout


The NFL lockout is essentially over, according to a slew of media organizations who are reporting a long-term deal was reached Monday, and all that’s left are the formalities.
The NFL even does labor disputes better than other leagues. The NHL lost an entire season. MLB blew a World Series. The NBA almost assuredly is going to miss part of the upcoming season.
If this is indeed the end, then let the record show that as labor battles go, the four-month lockout was a low-stress, even enjoyable at times, soap opera for fans.
After all, who didn’t enjoy NFL Players Association executive DeMaurice Smith’s deep rotation of snazzy fedoras? (Time will tell if he can negotiate, but there is no debate the man can dress.)
Or the cascade of condemnation fans rained down on usually unflappable Roger Goodell at the NFL draft? (These were the most uncomfortable moments of Goodell’s charmed life since it took him five minutes to secure a date to the 1976 Saddie Hawkins Day dance at Bronxville High School.)
Or the way both labor teams would see the television cameras and posture like tough guys as they marched en route to some Midtown lawyer’s office. It was like some white-collar West Side Story. (The best part would be when they’d get stuck at a cross walk. Even NFL players don’t look tough waiting for the walk symbol. Lawyers are just laughable.)
There was plenty of comically over-the-top rhetoric – like the players threatening to blow everything up four days prior because the owners dared to insult them by holding a news conference announcing there was an “agreement.” (So much for that).
There was a lot of legal wrangling (some fairly interesting), days of great progress (when both sides realized leaving it to judges wasn’t smart) and some great confrontations.
There was Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reportedly insultingPeyton Manning(notes) during one session (when Indianapolis hosts Carolina on Nov. 27, expect a calm, quiet nine-touchdown effort out of Manning). Then there was Smith reportedly demanding his own lawyers “stand down” during one angry exchange. That’s more legal drama than any episode of “Franklin and Bash.”
In March, the NFL locked out the players, who had decertified as a union earlier, and there were all sorts of dire predictions: no opening weekend, no games until November, no Super Bowl …
Monday both sides reportedly agreed to a deal, and unless you have some strange passion for predicting who won and lost in the details of collective bargaining agreements, the only news that matters is that this is over.
No regular season games will be missed.
The deal is believed to be for at least seven years and could be as long as 10; reports are still coming in.
The league and the union will provide more assistance to injured retired players, which is about the only moral issue here.
The only casualties appear to the Hall of Fame game (the rest of the preseason will go off as scheduled starting Aug. 11), HBO’s “Hard Knocks” (“Let’s go eat a [expletive] snack!”) and a small part of NFL Network reporter Albert Breer’s sanity after all those hours of dutiful negotiating-session-stake-out duty.
Meanwhile, consider the benefits here:
• The shortened timeframe for free agency/trades/signing draft picks means the next couple weeks will be a complete free-for-all of negotiating, dealing and roster building. Everything begins in earnest Tuesday. As one NFL front office person put it to me, “It’s like nothing we’ve ever tried. You could win or lose a Super Bowl over the next 10 days.” It’s going to be fun.
Rather than serve as a nice football reprieve in the dead of early March, the free-agent signing period provides a spurt of activity that will build excitement right into the start of camps. Say your team just traded for Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb and you wonder how he’ll look? Well, camp starts any day now.
• The Brett Favre(notes) unretirement talk has been kept to a relative minimum.
Obviously things aren’t perfect. Rookies, especially quarterbacks such as top overall pick Cam Newton(notes)of the Panthers, will face a steeper learning scale. Those spring organized team activities may seem pointless but they help young guys make the transition. That was lost.
Teams with a returning coach and quarterback are at an advantage because their system is in place. The more veteran the club, the smoother September should go. A new coaching staff has less time to implement change. You don’t imagine the Green Bay Packers or New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers have much to reinvent.
Although, that’s just speculation and actually raises the stakes on some early season games.
The most common sentiment I heard from fans since the lockout began is, “Wake me when it’s over.”
Well, it’s apparently over. Goodell and Smith did a fine job keeping communication and respect – at least between the two of them – on a high level. Armageddon gambles, such as the union taking the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit to court to see if it could win major concessions, was ditched in favor of a return to the field.
Things didn’t happen as quickly as some wanted, but in the end it happened as quickly as necessary.

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