NFL owners voted unanimously Tuesday to opt out of the league's labor agreement, so expect to be inundated with exchanges of verbal volleys in vague legal terminology for the foreseeable future.
This is not a fight that figures to end soon.
"Clearly, the economics are not working for the owners," commissioner Roger Goodell said at the league meeting in Atlanta.
Players union chief Gene Upshaw's response: "This CBA (collective bargaining agreement) has been extended several times because neither side has been greedy. We believe the owners are getting greedy. In their eyes, a loss means they're not making as much money as they thought they would."
The lines have been drawn. Let's try to make sense of it all.
What happened Tuesday, and why does it matter?
When the current collective bargaining agreement was negotiated in 2006, the owners insisted on an opt-out clause that allowed them to void the deal before Nov. 8, 2008. After the owners' 32-0 vote, the deal remains in place for the next three seasons, though 2010 will be played without a salary cap. Without a labor agreement in place in 2011, the chance of a lockout is very real. The NFL has not had a work stoppage since 1987. The product on the field will be mostly unaffected for the next three seasons.
Why do owners want out?
Player salaries have escalated rapidly under the current CBA. The salary cap has jumped from $85.5-million per team in 2005 to more than $116-million in 2008. Teams are required to spend a designated percentage of that cap on salary, which this year amounts to about $100-million each. Owners say they are committing $4.5-billion to players from a revenue pool that exceeds $8-billion.
What is an uncapped year, and what does it mean?
If no new deal is negotiated before 2010, there will be no cap for that season. That opens the door to a system that could enable a deep-pocketed owner to attempt to buy a championship, thus eliminating the mostly level playing field now in place.
How will this affect the Bucs' and other teams' efforts to sign their draft picks?
It's hard to say exactly how rookie contract negotiations might be affected, but the labor situation is certainly a variable. If there is no new CBA by 2010, players will not enjoy unrestricted free agency until they have six years of accrued service, rather than four.
How likely is a work stoppage?
A lockout is not in either side's best interest, and there is plenty of time between now and March 2010 to come to terms. Given the fact the sides have already had a negotiating session, there appears to be a determination to avoid the worst-case scenario.