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ExtremeRavens: The Sanctuary

Ten things to know, right now, about the labor situation


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It’s becoming more and more likely that the NFL will lock out the players on March 4. It’s unclear whether the union will in response to a lockout decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit after the NFL imposes rules for free agency, the salary cap, and the draft across 32 ostensibly separate businesses.


It’s possible that the union is bluffing about decertification, and that the union fears losing the antitrust case.


If it’s a bluff, one of lawyer Jeffrey Kessler’s colleagues is doing his best to sell it.


In a workers’ compensation dispute pending in Pittsburgh federal court, attorney Adam J. Kaiser (pictured) resisted an effort to move former Steelers player Kendall Newson’s claim out of the court system and into arbitration because a lockout is coming, followed by decertification.


Here’s the relevant paragraph from Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “There is going to be a lockout of the players on March 3, because there is absolutely no chance of reaching a [contract agreement],” said Adam J. Kaiser, an attorney with New York firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, which represents the union in contract talks and in Mr. Newson’s case. The union will decertify, and “arbitrations will be almost impossible to resolve,” leaving Mr. Newson in limbo.”


Lord doesn’t directly quote Kaiser as saying decertification will occur, but the context indicates that’s what Kaiser told the court while arguing Newson’s case. It is clear that Kaiser believes a deal between the league and the union has “absolutely no chance” of being reached on March 3.


That said, some lawyers will say whatever they have to say in order to get the ruling they want. Kaiser wanted a ruling that Newson’s claim should stay in court and not be sent to federal court. So it’s possible that Kaiser isn’t privy to the union’s plan, and that Kaiser pushed the idea of a lockout/decertification in order to prevail. Then again, Kaiser and Kessler are partner’s in the 26-city firm’s New York office, and they have worked together on other matters. So Kaiser likely knows what Kessler knows when it comes to decertification, and Kaiser possibly has let the cat out of the bag in a Pittsburgh courtroom.


We’re reached out to Lord for more information about what Kaiser did, and didn’t, say.


UPDATE: Reached by phone, Lord confirmed that Kaiser’s comments came in open court, and that Kaiser said the union will decertify. In a separate post, we’ll explain what decertification means.





In the near future, players with three, four, and five years of NFL experience are expected to be notified by teams that they’ve been “tendered” as restricted free agents.


In terms of player volume, it’s a major diversion from the norm.


Per traditional collective bargaining rules, only free agents with three accrued seasons are restricted. Adding four- and five-year veterans creates the largest restricted free agent pool in NFL history. Upwards of 300 players are affected.


Restricted free agent tenders are completely non-binding, one-year contract proposals usually in the $1 million to $2 million range. Tenders indicate that clubs intend to keep these players into training camp. But the players are guaranteed nothing.


Marquee talents since as four-year Vikings receiver Sidney Rice, five-year Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, and four-year Giants tight end Kevin Boss had planned to capitalize on the lucrative, unrestricted free agent market with long-term contracts containing $10-14 million guaranteed.


With no salary cap and CBA, these players are no longer in line to strike it rich. They could even be cut in the fall.


“The uncertainty is unsettling,” said agent Scott Smith of X-A-M Sports, which represents Boss and Falcons running back Jason Snelling, another unrestricted-turned-restricted free agent. “Not only do players not know when and if there will be free agency, a good number of them don’t even know what their free agency status currently is.”


What makes the situation particularly troubling for players is that tenders may mean absolutely nothing. The tenders’ value depends entirely on terms set forth in the next CBA. The owners and NFLPA seem to be nowhere near an agreement.


“I’ve been following things closely,” said Smith of the progress of Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions. “And I have absolutely no idea how close the two sides are to reaching an agreement.”


In all likelihood, the tenders will be worthless.


Perhaps it’s all psychological. NFL teams are well aware of the tenders’ tenuous-at-best value. So are owners instructing their front offices to apply them as a means of disrupting the players union? Could the increased uncertainty shatter the NFLPA’s mettle, potentially causing the players to cave at the bargaining table?


“Restricting four- and five-year players is clearly in the teams’ best interests,” Smith observed. “They would have plenty of reasons to attempt to do it.”


ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently cited a plugged-in NFL person as saying, “This CBA has no chance. The owners don’t want a deal.”


Without contracts for 2011, these “tendered” restricted free agents, more than anyone else, are left twisting in the wind.

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