Tucked neatly inside today's Monday Morning QB is Jim Trotter's report on the tense moments leading up to Thursday's original lockout deadline, and one player who — complete with throat-slashing gesture — jumped the gun on decertification. But what's most fascinating, as a seven-day extension ticks away, is that the players seem to hold the biggest bargaining chip.
With only five minutes to go before the union's deadline to decertify last Thursday — a move that might have obliterated the NFL as we know it today — a player walked into the negotiating room that included commissioner Roger Goodell, league attorney Jeff Pash, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Kevin Mawae and declared: "We're done! We're decertifying."
At that point the aforementioned player — whose name is being withheld because of the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations — walked into the room upstairs, tapped Mawae on the shoulder and made a quick hand-across-the-throat gesture while making his decertification declaration.
According to sources, the union had a member of its legal team on the phone with the clerk of the court in Minneapolis, where U.S. District Judge David Doty presides over the case. Cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and the league agreed to the first of two extensions.
The issue here is not who the anonymous player was (despite Pro Football Talk devoting many words to an educated guess of Drew Brees). The issue here is just how powerful decertification is as a weapon. The players know it, and you're damn right the league knows it.
The crux is this: if the union decertifies before the CBA expires, the players would bring an antitrust case in the event of a lockout. That case would be heard by Judge David Doty, who's already taken the players' side in one crucial decision.
That would explain our unnamed player's pantomiming a mortal blow, and it would explain Patriots owner Robert Kraft's attempt to head off decertification "by striking a point he has repeated through the process, that it was 'time to the get the lawyers out of the room' and 'let the business people do a deal.'"
Smell that? That's fear, fear that a federal judge may not see things the way the owners want us to see them. Sense that? The fact that for once, the players have leverage on their side. All those reports throughout the season of teams voting to decertify have finally paid off, with a nuclear option that the league may not be willing to face. And if they're not, the only remaining option is to get a deal done.