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NFL Owners Granted Permanent Stay: Why This Owner Victory Is Good News

I've avoided discussing the NFL labor negotiations because they're somewhat tedious, touch on byzantine legalities, and most of us just want NFL football and could care less about who "wins" the labor negotiation. Unless you're a legal scholar, a member of the AFL/CIO, or an aspiring billionaire, you probably don't have much of a dog in this fight.

The NFL owners were just granted a permanent stay by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals which overrules Judge Susan Nelson's earlier ruling that prevented the NFL owners from locking out their employees. That means the lockout is in effect and if it continues, the NFL players lose much of the legal leverage they had gained, including the psychological momentum of a press and public that was moving - if unenthusiastically - towards the player point of view.

This is good news.

Before you drown me in Power To The People chants and picket my broadband provider, hear me out.

It's good news not because I favor the owners, but because it's the most beneficial unfolding of events for both parties to work for a solution. If you believe total victory is attainable, you have no incentive to negotiate. That's when you can go U.S. Grant and get Appomattox. If you believe events will unfold as win-some, lose-some, you begin to see the value of cutting a deal and that's how 38th parallels come about.

The lockout is the owner's most devastating weapon. The press has been weirdly circumspect in explaining precisely why beyond the general nod to players missing out on paychecks. Perhaps they don't delve into it because many of them have to go into NFL locker rooms again one day and they're a bit scared to poke around on a tender Achilles Heel.

The lockout is particularly devastating because it attacks the NFL players greatest weakness: their inability to manage their own financial lives. Consider this simple and startling fact:

By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

Most NFL Players, despite the posturing of their union to the contrary (DeMaurice Smith and player reps rebut that they have stockpiles of cash as they've been planning for this for some time now, but the math doesn't work) are terrified of not getting paid. Many NFL players, irrespective of their income, live paycheck to paycheck. Forgetting post-retirement for a moment, many - even during their high income playing days - are already in debt from overspending on baubles, mismanagement, entourage maintenance, and their attempt at launching a terrible clothing line.

The owners are far from Buffett-like in their money management and financial prudence, but there may not be a high paid professional class in the United States that manages their money more poorly than the NFL player. Similarly, the owners have a lifetime in which to recoup their losses. A player who misses games over the span of his 3-5 year career is losing out on a significant portion of their lifetime earnings.

A badly compromised NFL season was most likely to come from either side gaining too much of an upper hand. The players should now understand that they cannot win total victory and will modify their behavior accordingly. The NFL owners should understand that they're walking a fine line of public opinion if they press their advantage and there are still plenty of court rulings that can go against them.

Right now, there is a separate mediation going down in Minneapolis between some players, former players, and owners (officially informal as the player union is dissolved as a legal entity) and I'll wager that this decision, after the initial emotional reaction, will move both parties closer to finding a solution rather than hardening each camp.

The X Factor, as it always is in these things, is ego. Roger Goodell. The owners that matter. The most influential players. Perhaps, most of all DeMaurice Smith. He has been an extremely aggressive advocate for the player cause and, hopefully, like all good firebrands, Smith understands that tough talk is best employed to show your seriousness - and then to cut a deal.