Photo: Patrick Smith (Getty)

Here’s an interesting item about the NFLPA tucked deep into Albert Breer’s latest weekly column over at Sports Illustrated:

At the union’s meetings in March 2017, they voted to withhold the GLA money from every player’s paycheck starting this year, to prepare for a potential work stoppage in 2021, so each guy who’s still in the league then will have a sort of rainy-day fund waiting for him. If a new CBA is struck before then, the money will be released.

Last summer, NFLPA president Eric Winston told me the union had a war chest to draw from in the event of a possible work stoppage once the current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2020 league year. Winston also said that money would come from the GLA, or group licensing agreement, which covers everything from Madden appearances to apparel sales. Each player’s share of the GLA amounts to $16,200, which nearly offsets the $18,000 he pays in union dues, as Breer noted elsewhere. But what’s noteworthy here is that there was a vote taken in March of last year to begin withholding that money from players’ checks beginning this year. It’s a tangible acknowledgement of their readiness to fight.

Any number of issues—guaranteed contracts, the franchise tag, player discipline, the drug policy, commissioner Roger Goodell’s weaponization of Article 46, the league’s investigatory overreach—were already tinder for the players to push back against management as the CBA’s expiration date approaches. The league’s new anthem policy is just more kindling for a fire that’s still only starting to burn.

The union’s forever problem when squaring off against the owners is the ability to keep its roughly 2,000-member workforce united over any length of time, given management’s much deeper pockets. Three years of GLA withholding would give the NFLPA a kitty of roughly $97 million, which it would have in addition to a reported $400 million or so in existing assets. That’s something. That most players have short careers, which limits their ability to maximize their earning power, only exacerbates the divide between the haves and have-nots. A work-stoppage fund that’s getting a boost because it’s been agreed upon collectively can, in theory, ease that burden. The 2011 lockout was a lesson in the importance of having a deep reserve, which, in turn, sharpens the biggest knife in the union’s utility drawer: the ability to cancel games, either through implication or by direct action. But for how long?