Bernstein: NFL Players Cracking At Deadline?

By Dan Bernstein– Senior Columnist

(CBS) When NFL players decertified their union months ago, it was a cosmetic, procedural move to pave the way for antitrust litigation in an attempt to gain leverage against owners bent on grabbing a bigger share of the profits.

But as we approach the first real deadline in negotiations – the one where preseason revenues are at stake – the NFLPA’s mixed messages, poor communication and questionable leadership are making that technicality seem all too real.

Get your stories straight, guys. Figure out what you want the public to hear and present it in unified fashion. Absent that kind of control, you look like you’re trying to save face while getting steamrolled.

Yesterday’s pattern was familiar to anyone who has been following the process, even casually. Saints QB Drew Brees goes on the record saying a settlement is “very close,” only to have anonymous sources from his side refute it strongly later in the day. While it’s common for such statements and denials to come from the adverse sides of the table, often we’ve seen the players debating themselves in the court of public opinion.

Union chief DeMaurice Smith has a difficult job in just managing the large, messy group he represents, let alone locking horns with Roger Goodell and the owners. It was bizarre to read the statement released by Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (in which they announced that their most recent offer was “fair,” and that it was “time to make a deal”), when considering Brees’s other comments.

Solidarity is no less important in the endgame of negotiations, when both sides are clawing for last-gasp victories. It was surprising to hear one of the highest-profile players – a hardliner, one of the named plaintiffs in that antitrust suit, in fact – undermining his side’s public stance and necessitating a clarification from his own people, especially after the inflamed rhetoric from the union during Super Bowl week and in the court proceedings.

Rank-and-file players aren’t helping either, with too many guys saying stupid things, or getting arrested in their idle time, further eroding public support. It has to be jarring to Smith and others when the next player interviewed says “I don’t know about all that, I just want to play football,” since that’s exactly what the owners wanted to hear. And Twitter lets them monitor everything, since players are not exactly sticking to labor talking points.

The bet they made by locking the doors was that they could scare the players into concessions, eventually starving them if need be. Thanks to both a unified front and some rulings that have denied any clear-cut union advantage, it seems to be working as planned.

Who is even sharing vital information with the hundreds of players that are supposed to be the strength-in-numbers bedrock of the union, or any union? Smith? He’s busy in the boardroom. Kevin Mawae? His standing was stronger when he was, you know, playing. Mike Vrabel was a respected representative at the national level, but he bailed for a coaching gig at Ohio State.

Do players even want to know what’s really going on? Many that we hear from seem to lack that kind of intellectual curiosity, even with their livelihoods at stake.

Lockouts favor owners. The guys who sign the checks initiate the stoppage when they see a good chance to improve their bottom line.

The players would have been happy to keep the status quo, but that’s not happening. When a deal gets done, there will be plenty of smiles and even more spin, almost all of that needed by Smith.

What’s left to see is not if the owners emerge with a win, but merely the margin.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: NFL Players Cracking At Deadline?

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • big time sucker

    smith is a trainwreck, a lawyer who believes to strongly in his profession as opposed to someone who truely understands the needs to players adn the need for the players to be part of the league. to bad upshaw resigned then died. this thing would have been over a month ago had he been running it.

  • big time sucker

    i wonder if he was referring to d hester and urlacher when he mentioned the lack of intellectual curiosity? me thinks so

    • Denver Deadite


      But in the end, a lot of guys just don’t care about the inner workings, they just want to show up, do their job, and go home.

      Just like a lot of fans don’t care about how a deal gets done and the lockout ends, as long as it does and we have an NFL season.

      So, I don’t necessarily see curiosity as an inherently bad thing. I mean, if it’s your job, you SHOULD have curiosity about it, but some people just aren’t wired that way.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I think that the lawsuit filed by Carl Eller etc. on behalf of the interests of retired players is an interesting development.

  • AT3374

    I hope something happens soon , or it will be the longest 70 games of the baseball season with the Cubs floundering and White Sox still in “it” but not really in “it” .

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      Was it really just last year that the Sox were something like 6 out with 20 to go, and Bernstein had written their epitaph, and callers were irate?

      I know it all started with a “if we can sweep the Twins…” mindset, and they tailspun out of control.

      Just found it. September 6th they were 77-60, 3.5 out with 24 to go.
      September 20 they were 79-71, 11 out with 12 to go. That’s so… Cub-like.

  • Mike Murphy

    Let’s see what my guy, John Dewan, from STAT INC, thinks

  • Denver Deadite

    It just shows how depressing the Chicago sports scene is right now when Bernstein and Holmes had to resort to that kind of conversation yesterday.

    • AT3374

      Yeah that was sad :(

      • Chris in Scottsdale

        I enjoyed it, but you’re right- the fact that it was likely more enjoyable than anything that could have been brought up about the Chicago sports scene is disappointing.

      • big time sucker


    • Spoon

      The bright side if it, is that I don’t have to listen to “Dat dere Cutman guy quit on his team, start Caleb!!!”

  • Caller of the show

    The owners have had all the leverage all along. Sure they don’t want to cutoff revenue streams but their pockects are way deeper then the average NFL player. For Peyton, Brady, and Brees the financial stress is not an issue. I guarantee there has been a lot of concessions made on the NFLPA’s behalf because the players are getting desparate. The average NFL career is 3.3 years, so the possibility of losing 1/3 of your earning potential is daunting for the average NFL player. The owners knew what they were doing. The NFLPA can kick and scream all they want but they will end up walking back quietly because of the lack of solidarity and preparation for the inpending labor strife. I am sure Antonio Cromartie is willing to take anything so that he can get a check to pay all his child support. A sad state but it is reality, the players are a commodity that is used, abused, and thrown away.

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      …And should still walk away with a bank account that is several times larger than the average person at the same age, and at least halfway to a bachelor’s degree assuming they did things the right way. I agree that the owners had all the leverage, and that would increase the longer time goes on.

      And yes, while the players are a commodity to be used and thrown away, the rookie minimum this past season was $325,000. 3.3 years of that??? Yeah, $1MM in career earnings before the age of 28? Seems like reasonable compensation that gives these players a headstart that most of us can only dream of.

      Say a guy makes the squad for one year, gets cut after one season and never plays again. Retired at 25.

      Even if that’s the case, beyond taxes and whatnot, is it fair to assume that he SHOULD have $50,000 left over, even living a nice lifestyle for the year that he played? Fine. He’s got $50,000 in the bank, a car, likely a place to live. At age 25. With a degree or or years out of four completed. If that’s all he gets out of his football skills, then he’s still ahead of 99% of the public.

      I know that it can be done because a woman I went to college with married a guy that played TE at Penn State, played three games in the league, and hasn’t played in the NFL since ’06. He was good with his money, and is now living a very solid suburban business life.

      The owners WILL win because billionares beat millionares, and it’s hard to curry favor to the plight of the “unjustly-compensated millionaire”.

      • Spoon

        The thing though, is that most of these players aren’t thinking about just making a lot more than the average person. They’re thinking of being high profile stars with multi-million dollar bank accounts by the age of 28 and 7-8 digits in endorsements coming in every year. I mean, $50k in the bank wont even buy most of them a low end version of the car they were dreaming of 2 years ago. Their perception is so far off from what the average person is, that’s why it’s usually astounding when you find a level headed player that’s out of the league after 5 years and you find out he’s set for life with investments.

      • Chris in Scottsdale

        Spoon- well put. I guess I took it for granted when my friend introduced me to her husband. The guy barely had time for a cup of coffee in the league (Career stats: 1 catch), but still under 30, is well on his way to being an affluent man, despite not getting that big NFL payday.

      • Denver Deadite

        That’s what it comes down to: lifestyle.

        If the players didn’t live like there’s no tomorrow, then they could hold out. But too many of them are dumb as bricks.

  • jack

    Of course the players are cracking – no work = no money to support their lifestyle. No personal workout facilities (they have to pay regular memberships to places like Lifetime Fitness), no huge paycheck means no all night parties at nightclubs, can’t make the payment(s) on their 2-3 cars/suvs, etc.

    Who knew that football players could suffer an “unemployment” phase like the rest of America.

    Guess what boys – suck it up and get real job

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      What makes their job “not real”? I’ll never say that their job isn’t real- as far as I’m concerned, it is… but you’re right- they are going to get more fractured as time goes on. I think the owners are already beginning to see it, and may press the advantage moving forward.

      • Murphs Upper-Lip

        Jack, I assume you’re a sports fan (why else would you be reading/writing about this topic.) To say that playing football, baseball, hockey, etc. is not a real job is not very bright… If it’s some sort of “dream” or “make believe job” sign me up! These players are in the entertainment business. Are television actors not “really” working? How ’bout movie actors? How ’bout broadway actors? Hmm…, not liking those examples? OK. What about great writers and artists? Or the lowly and soon to be extinct newspaper writers? Or, god forbid, Boers and Bernstein!!! You wrote, “A real job is: trash collector, construction worker, mail carrier, janitor, etc – those jobs that make daily life for the rest of the world more tolerable.” That MAKES the argument for playing football a real job. It makes millions and millions of people’s lives more TOLERABLE.

        Sorry, rants over…

      • jack

        Chris – a clarification on real job-

        A real job is: trash collector, construction worker, mail carrier, janitor, etc – those jobs that make daily life for the rest of the world more tolerable.

        Playing or not playing football does not make my daily life more tolerable – appearing in commercials hawking sports drinks, signing autographs, etc – well that just doesn’t make a difference in this world – except to the football player – that’s why they are called players and not “football workers”

  • meesohawnee

    well i see my favorite radio lightin rod is back. well.. has been back.
    duh crakin.. ever wonder why a billionaire is a billionaire? Cause they manage their money and make it work for them.
    the stupid by 75k engagement rings and get married to gold diggin hoe bags. . hello.anybody out there?.
    but really.. why is this a subject? it will get done it always has been a will get done. just like the debt thing.its just something for the MSM to blather about.
    too much money to be lost
    no problems here.. move along.

  • White Bread Western Grad

    Many of these players are like most of us: they spend as much or more than what they make and they’ve never been taught how to manage their money. The biggest difference is that while they make more than most of us by the time they turn 25 or 30, their peak earnings years are well behind by the time they reach 50 if they live that long. The rest of us start making serious cash later in life. Most professional athletes HAVE to think short-term because there are few long-term guarantees, so it’s not surprising NFL players are saying what they’re saying.

    • Chris in Scottsdale

      That’s why I loved this article… plus the fact that it sells out Bart Scott as being much more clever than people would guess from his image.

      Many players are “going to be hurting,” agreed New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, 30, a Wilkes client. Scott, who stands to earn, or lose, $6 million next season, is frugal by NFL standards, driving his 2002 Lincoln Navigator “into the ground” and purchasing a $700,000 home — relatively modest by football star standards.

  • meesohawnee

    Looks like Leon slipped the check to Judge Mother F%%#r

    • WILSON!

      Excellent reference.

      Now, go throw the glass off the ferry.


    The players couldn’t survive brinkmanship, unless the better off started propping up the lesser fortunate.

    Some owners wouldn’t survive their lifestyles, because football is their only business, but they’d just be sellers in a down market.
    Tiger has flooded the yacht and private jet market at the moment.

  • meesohawnee

    Well. i think the syringe got tossed off the ferry! Good catch Wilson! .. i think Leon had more credibility than roger he can hang out in george’s box all he wants

    • WILSON!

      For a second there, I thought I whiffed and redirected Suspect (Cher, Dennis, Liam)
      back at you.

  • Jason's Jelly-Filled Donut

    Quti talkin hackey!

  • Murphs Upper-Lip

    Good piece. When this lockout started, I was firmly on the player’s side. Still am. But, from a p.r. standpoint, the player’s union has done horribly, at least how they’ve presented themselves to the public. The business they are in serves for one purpose – entertainment. Their buyers, i.e. us, are not too impressed when a player says “Hey, man, I just want to play football” when the fight they are currently in with the owners could be done yesterday if they really just wanted to “play football.”

    I think the owner’s are unbelievably greedy – rightfully so. There’s a reason they have the financial maturity to even be able to own a major league sports team. But, it really does come down to supply and demand. Yes, the owner’s have the payroll to front the team, BUT, I don’t care if you’re Bill Gates; without the unbelievable talent, the NFL would not be one of the most powerful businesses in the world. The player’s really do have the upper-hand in this negotiation — as do the player’s in any major sport. Short term, the owner’s can currently handcuff these true greats. BUT… in the long run, the only thing that matters is the entertainment value and the only thing that truly matters is the players! So, going back to the point I was making, (albeit in quite the long fashion), when a player says they just want to play football when asked about the current lockout, that doesn’t fly! They need to educate themselves as to why this lockout is taking place. If they truly “just want to play football” I am quite certain that the owner’s can make that happen. There is a deeper fight here, have some respect for your (unbelievably fortunate) occupation and former co-workers. Don’t make the only ones in the public who are on your side be those that know ALL the issues… let the common fan ALSO have empathy for you!

    • WILSON!

      What the owners will always carry to the negotiating table, is the inflated importance of their organizations.
      When you’re team plays with a high level of competency and consistency (as it should with selection process of its athletes), then all those front office operators and all those surplus coaches on the sidelines and in the sky boxes are worth it.
      They’re hard workers, but, often, their efforts do not translate to what you see on the field.
      And their salaries are coming out of the same pool. They serve the owners, not the fans. The fans understand that player x deserves an abundant compensation, because of his risks. We do not understand why a team needs a marketing department, if it can’t score in the red zone.

  • Roberta Waker

    The owners need to lighten up on the greed and get the ball rolling for an NFL season. If they don’t play football this year, oh well, we will survive quite well. A lot of people are looking forward to spending Sundays with their families and friends doing fun things instead of sitting in front of the boob tube watching football. It won’t be easy, but it CAN be done. The owners could be hurting themselves more than they realize because it’s ultimately the FANS that support them and their teams. No fan support – no profit. Figure it out.

    • WILSON!

      You aren’t alone in thinking that.
      July and August provide some of the worst golf days in Illinois, but September and October are slightly better. Geez, you can sneak out there in November on some courses.

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