NFL owners have yet to break their league's players union, but they have succeeded in one thing: They succeeded in breaking whatever trust existed between the two sides.
The straw that broke the NFL camels' backs turned out to be not an argument over salary-cap size or whether overages in projected revenues would be shared or not, but rather the owners' decision not to negotiate for the maximum amount of TV revenue for all sides several years ago.
Once it was revealed in the court of Judge David Doty last month that the owners cut a deal with DirecTV to receive more money if games were not played next year than if they were, trust went out the window, and the aftershock of that revelation continued to reverberate throughout the CBA negotiations until they broke down on March 11.
"It was, it was," said Chiefs LB Mike Vrabel, who is one of 10 plaintiffs now suing the NFL in federal court. "That opened a lot of eyes. When you make a deal for more money if we don't play games than if we do, you don't have to be real smart to see that doesn't make a lot of sense. Their plan all along wasn't to negotiate; it was to lock us out."
Cowboys assistant player representative Bradie James agreed with Vrabel, adding, "The whole trust thing is a fine line. We've been fighting this battle since 2009, so to just put it on one case like the TV case (isn't right), but knowing they pretty much tried to finance themselves when we were unemployed (locked out), we knew what we were dealing with. That's the monster you're facing.''
One side's monster is another side's businessman, and so the NFL countered with several broadsides of its own, including a letter from commissioner Roger Goodell to all NFL players. Goodell highlighted the best points of the owners' proposal but left out the downsides, which included the owners' keeping of any monies that came in over the league's projected revenue growth numbers.
That could mount into the billions in 2013 and '14 when new TV deals are to be negotiated, at the same time the league was projecting only 2 percent revenue growth. If you know the history of TV revenue growth in the NFL, you know that the owners would have needed a backhoe to carry all that extra cash into their banks had the players agreed to their proposal.
"I've come to understand the business of the game doesn't really necessarily represent the essence of the game, and it's discouraging," said retired NFL player Sean Morey, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee. "Jerry Jones sat across from us and said he's a professional optimist. Damn right he is. He understands the league now is more profitable than ever and the amount of money they're able to make down the road is something I believe they don't want to share.
"Really, what the NFL (hopes to do) is privatize its profit and socialize its costs. The perception they've given us is that the league is using the economic distress of our nation — where people are struggling with their mortgages and to keep their jobs — to justify asking players (for) ... the most significant giveback in NFL history."
And so the battle now heads to federal court, where on April 6 the union will seek an injunction to end the lockout. If the players prevail, the owners will appeal, the lawyers will keep making money, football will remain on the sidelines, and greed will continue to rule over and ruin America's most profitable sport.