FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Maybe it’s just me, but there is certainly a ton of information out there about the prior negotiations and current labor dispute regarding the NFL owners and DeMaurice Smith and the NFL Player’s Union. With all that’s out there, it has been difficult to wrap my head around everything that has been going on in the discussions between the two, and hopefully I’m not the only one who feels this way.

As Friday night turned to Saturday morning, the NFL released a statement announcing that after tireless efforts at re-negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the union an NFL lockout is amongst us.

The lockout comes as a response to the union’s decertification, stating that they are no longer in the business of representing players — at least until a new CBA deal gets done. Decertifying allows players to individually take their chances in court under the anti-trust laws.

Such prominent faces of the NFL like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, along with 10 other players, have already filed a class-action claim in federal court in Minneapolis, MN against the owners. The anti-trust case that will forever be referred to as Brady et al vs. National Football League et al will go after the league’s policies regarding the draft, salary cap and free agency restrictions — particularly franchise player tags.

Following the path of the Sherman Act, — a federal anti-trust statute from 1890 that limits monopolies and restrictions on commerce — the players are seeking triple the amount of damages they’ve acquired. That means the players will be asking for compensation in the area of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It could take a month for there to be a ruling on the union’s injunction request, and anti-trust judgments should take longer.

Depending on what happens in court — a Minnesota judge has held jurisdiction over NFL labor matters since the early 1990s — the 2011 season could be threatened.

So while fans are left in limbo awaiting to hear what will happen to the nation’s favorite sport (sorry MLB), the union and the league continue to fire subtle jabs through the media at each other.

In a statement issued from the NFL announcing the official start of a lockout, the league called the union’s decertification a “sham” and that “the litigation maneuver is built on the indisputably false premise that the NFLPA has stopped being a union and will merely delay the process of reaching an agreement.”

After the NFL’s chief labor negotiator, Jeff Pash, insinuated that Smith and the union weren’t as committed to bargaining as the league was, Smith fired back a statement of his own:

“I understand that there’s probably some things that Jeff Pash has to say. But this is the truth: We know that as early as March of 2009, from the discovery in the television case, that the National Football League engaged in a strategy to get $4 billion of television money – to lock out our fans, lock out our players – even if the games weren’t played.

“When I get ready to leave, I will leave each and every one of you in the media with what we call the decision tree, because this is exactly a document from the National Football League, that talks about how they were going go about securing television money, and I quote, ‘for cash during a lockout.’ So, with all due respect, when someone wants to stand up and say that he questions or doubts one party’s commitment to the negotiation process, all I would ask is for all of you … stick to the facts.”

Last week Judge David S. Doty ruled that the NFL violated the collective bargaining agreement with its players by renegotiating $4.078 billion in television rights fees for team owners to tap during a lockout even if no games are played in 2011.

Despite the negative media attention towards the NFL and its owners, it was the union who walked away from a deal that met many of the players’ wants and needs. According to that statement the NFL released the latest proposal’s details included:

  • Reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7.
  • Ensuring no compensation reduction for veterans.
  • Implementing new year-round health & safety rules (reduction in off-season programs of five weeks [from 14 to 9] and OTAs [from 14 to 10], and significant reduction in the amount of contact in practice).
  • Keeping the 16-game regular season, 4-game postseason format for at least two years; Any changes would require approval from league and union.
  • Establishing a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million from the owners over the next two years.

Yes, the negotiations have been messy and well-publicized but progress was made before the recent burning of bridges. After having half the month of March in extensions of negotiations, both sides were reportedly off by $185 million on how much owners should get up from each season for certain operating expense before splitting up the rest of the revenues with players. That’s a far less amount than the $1 billion difference that separated the two sides earlier in discussions.

A recent poll by ProFootballTalk.com asked fans to place blame on who is responsible for the lockout and 27,000 have said that the player’s are too blame, barely. Just over 38% say the players are to blame, while 24.8% blame the owners and 36.7% blame both. So while the league and the union continue to bicker like a divorced couple fighting over frequent flier miles, the fans are the ones who are truly hurting from this dispute, like a child overhearing their parents argument.

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