When the clock strikes midnight on Friday, March 4th, the much-ballyhooed and -expected lockout will officially be here. The league's ownership group and the NFL Players Association have just one day remaining before the Collective Bargaining Agreement officially expires. Is there a possibility that a last-minute deal gets done? I suppose so. But all signs point towards the negotiation process dragging well into the spring and even summer.
The NFLPA is expected to decertify their union on Thursday afternoon, then promptly seek a court injunction that would prevent teams from locking them out. Translation? This mess is about to be handed over to lawyers. There had been hope that both parties would agree to an extension of the 11:59 Thursday deadline, but don't hold your breath on that one now that Wednesday has come and passed.
If you want to look at the bright side, perhaps the media frenzy that will kick in once the lockout is actually here will put a bit of pressure on both sides to negotiate more frequently and cooperatively. And don't forget that we're still five full months away from what would have been the normal start to the 2011 season. Lots of time to get something done that makes sense for both sides.
The main points of contention are a proposed 18-game schedule, and how to equitably divide up the league's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues. Sounds ludicrous to think that they both sides couldn't ultimately find a ratio that left them both satisfied, but this is not just a case of billionaires greedily bickering with millionaires. Players' health are at stake, while NFL owners rightfully want to turn an annual profit and not have to wait until selling the franchise before seeing any real return on their exorbitant investments. There are guaranteed contracts to discuss, a new set of rules governing free agency, and the need to implement a rookie wage scale much like the NBA's rather than seeing new record contracts signed each spring by the latest first-round talent. That's just to name some of what's at stake in the negotiation process.
So be patient. I think in the end we as fans will ultimately find that the new-look NFL is even better than the product we've grown to love so much in this country since the historic 1993 CBA that introduced free agency into the NFL in earnest.
Stay tuned here, at Behind the Steel Curtain, and around the SB Nation network for news updates, commentary, and discussion about the looming 2011 NFL lockout.