IF YOU LOOKED around the Web yesterday, you will have concluded by now that the artist formerly known as the NFL Players Association is dead, and that the league's labor unrest is all over but the cave-in.
This is wrong, though.
The owners just won a big court ruling from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Their lockout is allowed to stand for now, and if the majority opinion ends up being the final reality following a June 3 hearing, the federal courts will not be able to save the union on this question.
But this ain't over, not nearly.
Here are 10 reasons why:
1 Judge David Doty. The judge from Minneapolis remains the union's best hope. He is currently thinking about how hard to hammer the owners for negotiating a television deal that he believes left money on the table and screwed the players in exchange for guaranteed payment from the networks during a lockout. If he puts the owners' $4 billion of TV money in escrow, and if he imposes other financial penalties, the leverage will have shifted again - at least a bit. If the players get what they're seeking in damages - at least $707 million - that becomes the working definition of a financial security blanket for the players, several hundred thousand dollars apiece. With that, the Porsche payments will be able to be made into the fall.
2 Won't the owners appeal? Absolutely. And, yes, the appeal would be heard in the same 8th Circuit that just ruled in their favor. But, well, just remember: This is an entirely different bit of business than the other case, and the 8th Circuit has upheld Doty in the past when the NFL complained about his decision to allow Michael Vick to keep bonus money despite his dogfighting conviction. Along with that was the decision that refused the NFL's attempt to get Doty thrown off the case for reasons of bias.
3 The worst NFL players don't want an early settlement. This is a little counterintuitive, but stick with me here. Every roster has about 10 guys on it whose job is in jeopardy every summer - because they aren't as good as they used to be, or because they make too much money, or because a player was drafted specifically to take his spot. If those guys think about it - and we're talking about 20 percent of the league, probably - the best scenario would be a deal sometime in August. Why? Because that way, rookies won't have time to learn new systems or realistically challenge for jobs. The older guys will be like gold for coaching staffs scared to death about the quality of the product they're about to throw onto the field, given that the rookies will barely know where to stand. The lockout is a fringe veteran's best friend.
4 No minicamps and OTAs. These are a scourge upon the sporting landscape - and veteran players believe this more than anyone. For that reason more than any other, this is not settling before July at the earliest.
5 The players are scattered. This needs to be emphasized. When the union broke during the 1987 strike, it was because the owners opened the doors and played with scabs - which gave wavering individuals a vehicle to show their disbelief in the union. During a lockout, during the offseason, there is no such vehicle. In May and June and July, the 1,600 players are in hundreds of different places - and there are no picket lines to cross, anyway. There is no way for such a far-flung membership to apply concerted pressure on the union leadership.
6 The owners have pressures, too. And if Doty holds the TV money in escrow, some of them will likely have trouble paying their stadium mortgages. But there is also this: Every NFL team was profitable in 2010 and nobody disputes it. Presumably, some were wildly profitable - so wildly profitable that the owners refuse to open the books of individual teams, even to each other (no less to the union). How long will the wildly profitable be willing to set money on fire? And doesn't the union have to test this, at least a little?
7 The NLRB. If the 8th Circuit rules as expected, what they're saying is that the court system should not resolve the question of whether or not the union is allowed to decertify. That leaves the National Labor Relations Board as the arbiter. You have to think the union would take a shot there, too. More time, then, before a resolution.
8 If the players quit now, they will be dead forever. DeMaurice Smith spent months selling the players on the notion that this would be a tough fight, and the players are people who fight for a living. To give in now - before the legal system has spoken finally, before the owners' financial resolve has been tested - would be impossible. Smith would have to resign and the players would never again be taken seriously by the owners.
9 Judge Doty.
10 Judge Doty.