Last night's surprising developments revealed one very obvious reality: NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is no Gene Upshaw. In what is surely a calculated gambit, the NFL owners approved a new collective bargaining agreement and announced their decision contingent upon the players ratifying the agreement. If this were tennis, Roger Goodell just acted like Roger Federer, smashing a lob shot right at DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA.
Many players tweeted their expressions of outrage last night upon hearing the news. Rightfully so, they were upset that the NFL would make that kind of public move before the NFLPA had an opportunity to even review the actual text of the agreement. What they should be angry about is the lack of effective leadership from their director.
Smith has struggled from the get-go maintaining union solidarity. All along this process, there have been renegade groups of players dissatisfied with way he has allowed Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees to seemingly call the shots with their lawsuit. Many of the "rank and file" players perceive Smith as playing to the superstars and their agents without adequate concern for their interests.
Now, Smith has allowed himself to be outflanked into a position that's a public relations disaster. There's an approved offer on the table with a hard deadline looming to prevent missing training camp, the preseason, or any regular season games. The NFL has now put the onus on the players to get a deal done. If there's no football, the public perception will be that it's the players' fault. With several high profile free agents still in limbo and the actual paying of game checks dependent on the regular season starting on time, it's highly doubtful that Smith has the clout to maintain enough solidarity for a strike.
What's more, the NFLPA would have to re-certify in order to strike. There would be legal ramifications negatively affecting those currently in litigation against the NFL, including the high profile group mentioned above. With comparatively little actual disagreement separating the two sides, Smith has little choice but to counsel his members to approve the current CBA offer and go back to work.
From the start of this process, it has been apparent that DeMaurice Smith did not command the same respect as the late Gene Upshaw, from either the owners or the players. If Upshaw, a former all-pro was still around to lead the players, there's no way we would have seen the number of renegades questioning his leadership, nor would the owners have attempted such a brazen, but effective, PR ploy. Upshaw was revered in that way. It's painfully clear for the players, DeMaurice Smith is not.
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