Well, now the union has taken action. In a move that its website boasts will be "sure to up the ante in the collective bargaining negotiations," the NFLPA on Wednesday filed a complaint with the special master in charge of overseeing disputes between the league and the union, seeking to prevent the NFL from pocketing $4 billion in guaranteed 2011 TV money until a new CBA ( collective bargaining agreement) is negotiated.
The NFL, predictably, sounds annoyed.
"The television contracts that the union attacked today were agreed to during the worst economy in our lifetimes," the league said in a statement posted on its nfllabor.com website. "Far from failing to maximize revenue, the contracts grew league revenue to fund higher player salaries and benefits. No wonder DeMaurice Smith said publicly this year, 'My hat's off to [commissioner] Roger Goodell. Television is locked up until 2014 to the tune of about $5 billion a year.' The union's meritless charges, including many inaccuracies, will be addressed in the proper forum, but they are simply a distraction and do nothing to get us any closer to a new CBA."
Thing is, though, the Smith quote cited in this statement was almost certainly made tongue-in-cheek, and in an effort to underscore Smith's belief that the guaranteed 2011 TV money is basically a lockout fund to help keep owners afloat in case games are canceled. The union spelled out this belief in its statement Wednesday, claiming that the guaranteed money totals about $4 billion and that the owners would save about $4.4 billion in player salaries in the event of a lockout.
"It appears that the owners bought a strategy to lock players and fans out and nonetheless financially protect themselves," Ravens cornerback and NFLPA executive committee member Domonique Foxworth said. "The players want to leave no stone unturned to make sure that CBA negotiations proceed in good faith and that next season is played in its entirety."
The union says it filed the complaint in an effort to keep the NFL from strengthening its bargaining position at the expense of the players. According to the claim, when the league included the lockout provisions in the TV deals, one of the results was that it failed to maximize the potential value of the deals, thus breaching its fiduciary duty to the players who would share in those profits. The complaint says that the league awarded valuable new benefits -- such as access to the "RedZone" channel and the right to sell broadband and mobile phone broadcasts of games -- to its TV partners in 2009 and 2010 but not charging any price increases until 2011.
"The NFL gave immediate and new valuable media benefits in 2009 and/or 2010 for nothing," NFLPA counsel Jeffrey Kessler said. "In essence, the NFL knowingly left money on the table at the expense of the players. The NFL thus has acted in bad faith."
Should the special master rule in favor of the union, the approximately $4 billion in guaranteed 2011 TV money would be held in escrow until a new CBA deal is reached. Regardless of what happens, it's clear that this negotiation is headed for more contentions territory before anything gets settled.