WASHINGTON—What a difference a year makes.
Monday marked one year since the NFL lockout began, at midnight on March 12, 2011. A year ago at this time, the NFL was set to shut down for business with the owners and players locked in a labor dispute that turned ugly at times. Extensions to negotiate a new CBA under federal mediation proved fruitless, and opening arguments in an anti-trust case were set to begin.
Now, with a new CBA signed last summer that ensures nine more years of labor peace, the league is thriving at record rates and no shortage of intriguing storylines abound this NFL offseason. In many respects, the lockout is long forgotten as fans turned their focus back onto the field.
In an exclusive to ProPlayerInsiders.com, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith gave his thoughts on the changes in the business over the past year.
“In many ways, it seems as if it was yesterday,” Smith told PPI. “In many ways, it seems as if it was 25 years ago.
“The lockout, I believe, changed our organization. Knowing that we didn’t have a choice, I look back on the last year as one of incredible growth for our organization.”
Smith said various leaders developed throughout the NFLPA because of the situation’s circumstances, adding that the NFLPA emerged stronger after the lockout due to the dedication of members.
With free agency beginning Tuesday at 4 p.m., Smith also provided his take on the anticipated player movement period given the rules under the new CBA.
“Last year had a flurry of free-agent acquisitions given the condensed amount of time that we had for free agency,” he said. “I believe that one of the reasons it was such a frenzy for free agency was because of that threat of no season was suddenly lifted.”
This year, “it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but what we know is that the game is strong and healthy.”
Emphasizing the union’s core mission of serving players past, present and future, the loquacious union boss recalled important courtroom and board room gains by former players who fought for what they believed in.
Smith told PPI: “I can’t think about free agency without thinking back to people like Freeman McNeil, Reggie White and Cornelius Bennett—players who were in an NFL system that did not have free agency and fought for free agency … against some of the people that said free agency would ruin football.”
He cited the irony of cynics who thought, before it was implemented in 1993, that a free-agency system would destroy the game.
“Our ratings are through the roof, our fan attraction is through the roof, television contracts are through the roof, our game is healthy, our game is thriving and free agency did nothing but not only improve the financial wherewithal of the players, but in no small way, improve the competitive nature of the game,” Smith said.
Watch the video interview here: