NFL labor tensions have produced insults, threats and widening divisions -- among allies.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith have conversed on a higher plane, but not by much. They have until March 4 to forge a new collective bargaining agreement.
Without an agreement, the league and its players risk dragging fans into a world without rules, one sure to carry unintended consequences. Ten things to know about the labor situation and what a lockout could mean:
This isn't about 18-game seasons or a rookie wage scale. The league and its players might already have an agreement if those were the primary issues. Owners want to redefine what revenues they share with players. They want some of the money players are getting to help cover costs associated with building and maintaining stadiums and facilities. Owners see these expenditures as good for the game. Players see them as good for owners' wallets. Once the sides agree on what goes into the revenue pie, they can work out percentage breakdowns.
No agreement means no free agency. The CBA determines qualifications for reaching free agency. In the past, players with at least four accrued seasons could become unrestricted free agents. Nearly 500 players would qualify under those guidelines this offseason, but only if there is an agreement. Those players could have no prospects without a new CBA. Teams hoping to upgrade their rosters could be stuck.
The draft would go forward. Teams would select college players, but a long list of questions would follow. Would those players sign contracts? Would teams retain rights to those players? Would there be a rookie wage scale?
Forget about trading players. The NFL trading period would generally open in March, but that will not happen without a new CBA. Teams couldn't even trade players during the draft, cutting off a widely used avenue for player acquisition.
Players stand to lose millions quickly. According to the league, 74 players stand to earn more than $140 million in bonuses and other compensation this March. They wouldn't collect that money during a lockout. These players will feel the effects of a lockout long before fans feel the effects.
Players have other immediate concerns. Players accustomed to seeing team doctors and visiting team facilities for treatments would suddenly become responsible for their own health care during a lockout. Securing benefits for family members with special health needs could create challenges. This is an immediate concern among players behind the scenes, but one that doesn't draw much attention from the outside.
Sponsorship money is at stake. Some of the league's sponsors might not honor their contracts with the league if the NFL shuts down. That would hit owners and players by shrinking the revenue pie. It's revenue the league would not recoup.
Union decertification could become an adventure. If teams lock out players, the NFLPA could move to decertify, clearing the way for players to challenge the league's antitrust status in the courts. That initial move could trigger a lengthy battle, and a defeat in the courts would prove disastrous to players. What if teams went about signing players in the absence of a union? No one knows for sure.
Assistant coaches would be in limbo. Teams would presumably want assistant coaches to continue working through the draft, but that could vary by team. Many assistant coaches' contracts call for reduced pay during a lockout. The assistants can usually earn back the money if there's a labor agreement in place by the regular season, but September remains a long way off. Teams with new coaching staffs would have a difficult time implementing new schemes.
Goodell and Smith are wild cards. The NFL and NFLPA knew what they were up against when the late Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw was running the union and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was leading the NFL. Smith and Goodell have no real history together, and no rapport. Smith's background is in law, not football, and that could explain some of the disconnect.
The Super Bowl will come and go as usual. Teams will head to Indianapolis for the college scouting combine in February, same as always.
The labor rhetoric will surely intensify.
After that, all bets are off.