WASHINGTON -- Once you wade through the mind-numbing references to expense credits, 18-game schedules, rookie wage scales, player safety, retirement benefits, offseason workouts, lockouts and decertification, the collapse of collective bargaining negotiations between the NFL's owners and players came down to one word:
Or lack thereof.
Executive director DeMaurice Smith and members of the union's team were unwilling to give the league $650 million a year to mitigate its risk to grow the game without the owners showing financial hardship, even though Commissioner Roger Goodell has said in recent years that the union has all the data it needs to understand the costs associated with constructing and renovating stadiums, playing internationally and building media platforms on the Internet and television.
No matter how many times the sides went around on the issue, Smith could not ignore the writings of federal Judge David Doty, who last month ruled the owners violated the backbone of the CBA by redoing the television contracts to build a war chest for a lockout of the players. Mix that with a 1992 antitrust case against the league in which former Eagles owner Norman Braman was found to have hidden profits, and it makes perfect sense why Smith and Co. would refuse to blindly give the owners an additional expense credit each year on top of the $1 billion the league received in 2010.
"The way two businesses should interact with each other is one based on trust and a trust that is verified," Smith said. "For the last 14 days, the National Football League has said trust us. But when it came time to the verification, they told us it was none of our business."
So with the deadline for decertification fast approaching Friday, the Players Association renounced its status as a union. The move transfers the labor impasse from the bargaining room to the courtroom, where the players have filed both an injunction to block a lockout and an antitrust suit alleging trade restrictions.
The league had until midnight Friday to do one of two things: Lock out the players or impose working conditions, which theoretically would result in a start to free agency at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The NFL had not announced its intentions as of 11 p.m.
Either way, the league is headed to court. Star quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, along with Texas A&M linebacker Vonnie Miller, are among the ten plaintiffs who would take on the league in the event of a lockout; and the players' attorneys also could file suits against the NFL if they believe the imposed working conditions are too restrictive in things such as free agency or salary compensation.
No one wants to read about labor battles -- nor do I want to write about them -- but we're in this situation because of a lack of trust on both sides, particularly among the men leading their parties: Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The parties have not achieved an overall agreement, nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core issues," mediator George Cohen said. "No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time."
For the first time since 1987, the NFL faces the real possibility of missing games. The decertification of the union doesn't mean a deal can't get done today, tomorrow, next week or next month. It just means that the union is now what's as a "trade association," which prohibits it from negotiating on behalf of the players.
However, the league can still work a deal with the attorneys representing the players in the antitrust suit. Those players are Manning, Brady, Brees, Miller, Vincent Jackson, Ben Leber, Logan Mankins, Brian Robison, Osi Umenyiora, and Mike Vrabel. Their attorneys are Jim Quinn and Jeff Kessler, longtime union attorneys.
If you think there's a lack of trust on the part of Smith and Goodell, it pales next to Kessler and NFL attorney Jeff Pash. And that's bad news for football fans everywhere.