From the moment he was elected executive director of the NFL Players Association in March 2009, DeMaurice Smith always took the long view when it came to negotiations with the owners on a new collective bargaining agreement. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
It's one of the reasons that slightly more than a year ago he received approval from the executive committee to secure insurance that would pay each player roughly $200,000 if there were no football in 2011.
Smith disclosed the fund to only a handful of people outside of the executive committee. However with negotiations seemingly at a standstill late Wednesday night, the decision was made to play one of their aces in the hole. So in the relative quiet of the sides' New York City bargaining room the next morning, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth informed the owners of the previously secret lockout fund.
Was that the shove in the back that moved the sides closer to a potential agreement? Only the owners know for sure, but a source close to one of them said the disclosure definitely got that side's attention. Perhaps for good reason.
The common perception has been that the players' solidarity would crumble once they started missing paychecks. However the foundation beneath that line of thinking would be as solid as Jell-O if the players could couple the insurance with a large financial award from U.S. District Judge David Doty, who previously ruled the owners had illegally created a $4.3 billion lockout fund for themselves by renegotiating their TV deals at the expense of the players.
"Players Association leadership looked into this as a last possible resort to keep players together in case games would be missed," one players-side source said of the insurance war chest. "It was never intended to be used as a bargaining chip or negotiating point until things became critical."
Thursday was a critical point. If the sides could not advance negotiations then the possibility of hundreds of millions of dollars being lost to canceled preseason games was real. And if the owners allowed the impasse to get that far, what was to stop them from testing the players' pain threshold by extending the lockout into the regular season?
The Players Association began informing its membership about the insurance fund over the past week and brought it up in the negotiating room for the first time Thursday. There's no way to know at this time whether it was the final oomph that pushed negotiations onto positive ground, but it's hard to believe it didn't have some impact considering the talks were "not in a good place" the previous night when the sides broke for the day.