Future Drafts In Jeopardy? Antitrust Lawsuit Filed, Lockout Enacted

Jerry Jones lays down the game plan as the NFL Brass prepares for a knock-down drag-out courtroom brouhaha against the Nonunion Players. Game time is TBD, but the locale will be the 8th District court in Minnesota in front of Judge David Doty.

Nine NFL players and one incoming rookie have filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL, claiming antitrust violations. The move came on the heels of the decertification of the NFL Player's Union Friday at 5pm eastern. After 16 days of mediated negotiations the owners and the players were unable to reach an agreement on a variety of issues, ranging from health care to veterans benefits to the top dog of revenue sharing. Now, the players have filed suit against the NFL in U.S. District Court, seeking class-action against the league.

From NFL.com

The players allege in the lawsuit that NFL teams conspired to deny the players' ability to market their services "through a patently unlawful group boycott and price-fixing arrangement or, in the alternative, a unilaterally imposed set of anticompetitive restrictions on player movement, free agency, and competitive market freedom."

They've also filed a request for an injunction to keep the NFL and teams from locking them out. However, reports have it that the league locked out the players as of midnight Friday. This ceases all league activity indefinitely.

A class-action lawsuit is one that allows a large number of people with a common interest in a matter to sue, or be sued, as a group. Patriots QB Tom Brady, Colts QB Peyton Manning, Saints QB Drew Brees, Chargers WR Vincent Jackson, Vikings LB Ben Leber, Patriots OG Logan Mankins, Vikings DE Brian Robison, Giants DE Osi Umenyiora, Chiefs LB Mike Vrabel and Texas A&M LB Von Miller will be the lead plaintiffs. Remember when the NFLPA was discussing the impending lockout with the amateurs at the Senior Bowl and some media scoffed at the maneuver? Mmhmm.

The players allege that the NFL conspired to deny the players' ability to market their services in what is a $9 billion business. They cite as constraints what they called the league's history of antitrust violations, including a potential lockout, the draft and the franchise and transition player designations. Teams use those designations to keep key free agents off the open market, but the players also are well compensated when they sign new contracts. - NFL.com

Continue reading to see how the draft might be affected.

Per the overwhelming majority of accounts, the 2011 draft will take place. Reports have it that the players whom will truly feel the effect of any missed NFL calendar time are the undrafted rookie free agents. The number of athletes affected could be near or above 100 players if you allocate three per team. These are players that could never see an NFL paycheck depending on how things work out. Missed mini-camps, missed OTA's and some of those guys aren't going to have a fighting chance to make the roster as a direct result of the lack of on-the-job training.

Looking towards future drafts, the antitrust lawsuit is reported to make a claim that I find very interesting.To paraphrase, it contends that the amateur draft is in direct violation of a persons ability to seek the best employment opportunity for themselves. When you hear players say that they've been gameplanning towards decertification for a while, maybe this was as big a part of their motivation as was preventing a lockout. No draft would theoretically mean the onset of a true competitive job market where everyone would be a free agent. Wouldn't that be considered the end game to the player rights movement that started 30 years ago?

It would seem foolish to blame the players for planning this move without acknowledging that a federal judge ruled the owners had made similar bunker plans; a $4 billion safety net from their television partners.

Heck, maybe even some of those owners who haven't been playing ball with their colleagues have been eying this as well. We all know there are warring factions inside the owner's locker room, as they internally have their own revenue sharing problems. If I'm Jerry Jones, I'm trying to get rid of the draft so that all those Cowboys fans that grow up into elite players can sign on the dotted line. Who wouldn't want to play in Jerry World? Mmhmm.

All of our heads are spinning from the events of yesterday. After the owners opted out of the CBA prior to the 2008 season, the threat of a lockout has existed as a strong possibility. In order for the players to fight for their position in court, they had to decertify before the CBA actually expired. That appears to be the reason why they walked out of the negotiations with the owners, they had a deadline that had to be met or risk having to wait six months. With the average lifespan of an NFL career being 2-3 years, any missed games is a big deal to the majority of NFL players. This is always the owner's leverage in a work stoppage. A small group of people with billions of dollars are normally better able to withstand the loss of income than a large group comprised of people worth considerably less.

The battle now not only goes into the courtoom, but also the court of public opinion as the owners' need the fans to not hold them responsible and still funnel money once the games return. After the union decertified, the press wars immediately began, with each side making statements directly in contrast with each other. UPI.com does a good job of showing the opposing soundbites.

"We offered today to split the difference and meet the union in the midpoint, with a player compensation number that would have been equivalent to player compensation in 2009 and above player compensation in 2010.

"We offered (to) grow it from there over four years by $20 million a club, to the point where in 2014 the player compensation number was the union's number. It was the number the union proposed to us and we accepted it. That wasn't good enough."

Smith, however, had another version -- and contradicted the league's claim on the contentious issue of expanding the regular season to 18 games..

"The NFL wanted to turn the clock back on player compensation by four years, moving them back to where they were in 2007," he said. "The NFL offered no proposal at all for long-term share of revenues."

Now these are top flight lawyers, every single one of them. It is their profession to be able to convince people that what they are telling you is the complete story, or to frame the truth. As is always the case, one side is going to have better lawyers, in addition to a better strategy to win public opinion. We should all try to keep this in mind when dissecting any and all press conferences that occur. Unless both sides are saying the exact same thing, the real truth probably exists somewhere on a spectrum between the two statements.

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