Anyone who thought there was going to be labor peace in the NFL when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed a year ago was way off.
The level of distrust and animosity between the players union and the owners — and especially Commissioner Roger Goodell — is soaring like a Thomas Morstead punt, and the New Orleans Saints are stuck in the middle.
First came the NFL investigation into an alleged bounty program and Goodell’s severe punishment of Saints coach Sean Payton and others.
The non-players involved all accepted their punishment with minimal push-back, acting about as guilty as they could have. The union and the players, on the other hand, have pushed back hard, essentially charging that Goodell is mad with power and railroaded innocent players.
The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between.
Now comes a report that the union wants the NFL to investigate whether the Saints have failed to negotiate in good faith with quarterback Drew Brees on a long-term contract as retribution for Brees’ prominent role as a union leader and his involvement in a lawsuit against the league during the lockout.
Back and forth they go, posturing as passionately as they did during the CBA stalemate.
The union’s game plan is simple: to admit nothing and discredit management at every turn. The league’s response is, we fairly negotiated for the power Goodell has exercised, and we don’t have to divulge any more than we want to.
First, the union wanted the NFL to release all of its evidence against the players. Then it asked the NFL to start the entire investigation over from scratch and have complete transparency.
Of course the league will do neither and the union knew that all along, but it’s trying to reinforce the notion that Goodell is overreaching and the players are victims. It’s trying to discredit the NFL investigation to regain some turf, at least in terms of public perception. Hence the request that the league look into the Saints-Brees negotiations.
The union is pouncing on the fact that it’s hard to understand how the Saints and Brees could have gone this long without a long-term agreement when both mean so much to each other, and when it would have been in both sides’ best interest to have this done months ago.
So anyone who’ll buy that Goodell punished the players without any evidence, even with the other suspects acting guilty from the start, could buy that the Saints are punishing Brees for his union work.
The franchise has all the leverage because Brees can’t play for anyone but New Orleans this season even if it means signing his $16.3 million tender.
If the league investigates it gives Saints management another black eye regardless of the findings. If the league refuses, the union strengthens its argument that Goodell and the league have run amok.
Ah, labor peace.