There's not a lot of clarity in the wake of the American Needle decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. Except for one thing: I don't see it pushing the two sides to the bargaining table to quicken the process toward a labor deal when the current one runs out following the 2011 NFL Draft.
"We're happy the ruling went our way,'' said George Atallah, the NFL Players Association assistant executive director for external affairs. "But we're not popping champagne corks yet.''
Nor should he. The league's counsel, Jeff Pash, told reporters at the site of the league's one-day spring meeting in Dallas: "This case was never about labor. We never, ever, ever argued that this had anything to do with labor. And I think the Court's opinion doesn't address labor, not in any way, shape or form." Though the 9-0 decision could pave the way for the players to eventually decertify and attack the bargaining process in a different way (such a decertification would mean the players could claim not to be a union, and that has tended to force both sides to the bargaining table in the past) there's little evidence the league will move aggressively to make concessions to try to forge any real progress in the stalled talks.
I've said this for the past year, and I'm sure I'll say it for the next nine months: These labor deals always come together (or not) at the 11th hour, and I don't expect real progress 'til next spring at the earliest.
Now for your e-mail:
• THE LEAGUE WILL NEVER LET THIS HAPPEN. From Jeff H. of Seattle: "Just curious what you think of the Supreme Court ruling that the teams are distinct and not one business for the purpose of advertising. Will this carry over to other things, like collective bargaining, salary caps and the draft? In effect, if the teams are separate, wouldn't it be collusion to decide how college graduates can find work? It would be like Ford, Toyota and GM having a draft to sign top engineers. And wouldn't the players union have to get a contract with each team? You have to think that there is some agent out there foaming at the mouth about being able to shop his fresh talent to the highest bidder. Looking forward to your thoughts.''
The one thing the union and the league have agreed on in all prior bargaining agreements -- and I'm sure it won't change -- is the need for a draft. It's the basis for the competitive balance in the NFL, and as much as I think the union wants to see a sea-change in how the business of pro football operates, I don't see any way either side ever negotiates the draft out of business.
• SOUNDS LIKE A REACH TO ME. From Eric Moore of Anchorage: "Follow me for a sec:
Roger Clemens: Sure-fire Hall of Famer, kept retiring, waffling and coming back late at the end of his career. Surprisingly productive seasons after he seemingly had lost a step. Turned out, at least to my way of thinking, he was avoiding the MLB drug testing program by being retired in the offseason.
Brett Favre: Sure-fire Hall of Famer, kept retiring, waffling and coming back late at the end of his career. Surprisingly productive seasons after he seemingly had lost a step. ...
I know you can't just throw out accusations against players with no evidence, but I just think a lot of fans are frustrated and fed up with the total shock displayed by talking heads when news comes out about an athlete's positive test or association with a tainted doctor. We've already been talking amongst ourselves about this stuff, so it just gets so tiresome when professionals act like they can't believe it. Maybe we turned a corner with the Brian Cushing thing, or maybe he was just a rookie and easy to shove under a bus.''
You're talking about two different subjects here, I think. Yes, I think it's naïve to be shocked every time a guilty PED guy surfaces, and now I'm surprised at nothing. But Favre? If you're suspicious about him trying to avoid drug-testing, the fact is until a player files retirement papers, he is subject to all the testing rules of football. If he is in the NFL's drug-testing programs and is called to give a sample in the offseason, he has to comply. (I doubt he's in the program, by the way, but any player who is in the program is subject to being tested year-round.)
• GOOD QUESTION. From Brad Bourbina of Pittsburg, Kan.: "What are the players' thoughts on the Super Bowl being played in New Jersey? I've heard a lot of opinions from analysts, radio talkers and former players, but what do the Mannings and Favres (ok, maybe not him) think? I always got the impression the players and coaches saw Super Bowl week as something of a "reward" for getting this far and treated it like a vacation (preparation for the biggest game of the year aside).''
I don't think players will be pleased. I haven't spoken to any of them about it, but usually players want to do things in warm climes -- golf, the beach -- in their free time. Now, some of them will be excited, I'm sure, to go clubbing in Manhattan on Monday night and Tuesday night, but other than that, most of their time is spoken for, and the thought that they'll be at hotels in Hanover, N.J., and Teaneck, N.J., for a week in February won't be really popular with them, in my opinion.
• CHICAGO. From Rob Martin of Houston: "Regarding Marc Bulger, if not the Cardinals, then where do you think he would best fit?''
Backing up Jay Cutler in Chicago would be the best idea. Mike Martz still loves Bulger, and he'd be a great relief pitcher in that scheme. Not that I think it's going to happen.
• BECAUSE HE CAN IMPACT THE GAME MORE, THAT'S WHY. From Richard of Huntsville, Ala.: "Why would the Bears bother making Devin Hester exclusively a return guy again? Return guys have a real short shelf life anyway (remember Dante Hall in K.C.?) and if they can't become an every-down player or reliable backup, they're really of little value after a few seasons, and Hester's already past that.''
For two years, he produced more big plays than any other return man ever had in a two-year period in NFL history. The Bears have depth at the receiver position, and I just think they'd be smarter to make sure he touches the ball 50 times in the return game this year.