Christopher L. Gasper

No sense to labor for any longer

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / July 23, 2011

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When is a done deal not a done deal? When it’s an uneasy alliance between the NFL and its players, who can’t reach a final accord without some last-minute discord. They agree to disagree on whether they have reached an agreement.

If you ask the NFL owners, who approved a collective bargaining agreement Thursday in Atlanta, labor peace has been reached through the 2020 season. Training camps will open Wednesday and it’s game on.

Not so fast. The erstwhile NFL Players Association, which decertified as part of the labor sparring, says the owners have an agreement all right - among themselves. The NFLPA has yet to vote on and ratify the proposal so the lockout, the scourge of football fans across America, lives on.

“Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms, and the right process for addressing recertification,’’ said NFLPA president Kevin Mawae in a statement yesterday. “There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft.’’

The whole situation is like a “Saturday Night Live’’ skit, except it’s not funny for millions of football fans who simply want a resolution to the long-running labor dispute, which has reached Day 129.

Here is the deal: The NFL’s new deal is a good deal for the players.

They’ll never be confused with the omnipotent Major League Baseball Players Association and they still have the least secure contracts and the most dangerous jobs among the big four professional sports, but the NFLPA served its members well in this dispute.

The players might not like that the owners backed them into a corner, and they certainly should check the fine print in the owners’ proposal for land mines. But by Monday morning the Great Lockout of 2011 should be over.

The longer the players wait to vote, the more it raises the ire of the football public, which doesn’t really care which side “won’’ in the labor dispute because the fans lost - a normal NFL offseason and patience with both sides.

A lot of people thought the players were going to get routed like a 2007 Patriots’ opponent, but NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith got his constituents landmark health and safety gains while surrendering less money to the owners than initially expected.

The owners entered negotiations shaking their tin cups for an extra $1 billion and asking for an 18-game season. They got neither.

According to estimates, the players would surrender about $200 million of revenue per year to the owners and get fail-safes that ensure their revenue percentage can’t dip below 47 percent during the deal. An 18-game season can’t be enacted until 2013, and it can’t happen without the players’ association’s consent.

The players also would get some significant workplace changes, with two-a-day practices in pads going the way of leather helmets - a thing of the past. There would be a reduction in offseason team activities from 14 to 10, and, in a move that is sure to rankle Patriots coach Bill Belichick, there would be a limit on the number of padded practices during the regular season. His Hoodiness would be able to only put his team in pads once a week, and during the final five weeks of the season he could only put them in pads three times.

Somewhere Ted Johnson is smiling.

In addition, players would have the option of health care coverage for life and up to $1.5 million of post-injury salary guarantees. The owners agreed to a sensible rookie salary structure, which the NBA and NHL already have. But the players would get a raise in the minimum salary and the condition that the NFL must spend, in cash, to 99 percent of the salary cap this year and next and 95 percent after that.

There are unresolved issues with league discipline, drug testing, the antitrust suit that counts Patriots players Tom Brady and Logan Mankins among its 10 plaintiffs, workman’s compensation, and whether future labor disputes will be subject to the judicial system or an arbitrator.

That last one is big because the NFL has a record like the Detroit Lions in court.

But the court of public opinion says this deal should be done. For much of these negotiations, the owners have been portrayed as the antagonists. It’s hard to bemoan the state of your business when Forbes includes all of your teams on the list of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world.

Now, the players are feeling the wrath of the public. Their pre-lockout slogan of “Let Us Play’’ is coming back to haunt them. The owners may have initiated the lockout, but the players are keeping the doors from reopening.

Fans don’t won’t to hear about last-minute snags and legal posturing for future disputes. They don’t want to hear Mawae say the NFLPA is not on the same timeline as the owners.

Actually, the players are on the same money line as the owners, and if a part of the $800 million exhibition season is lost, then the deal could get blown up. If that happens, the players are not going to get a better deal than this one.

It’s time to put the labor unrest to rest. Here’s hoping the plume of white smoke goes up from NFLPA headquarters so we can all get on with our lives.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at and can be read at Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.

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