Eric Winston, Bengals offensive tackle and NFL Players’ Association President, made headlines in August when he talked about a potential 2021 NFL lockout.
“Honestly, I don’t care, and I don’t think the guys in this locker room care whether [the NFL] is going to be around in 20 years because none of us are going to be playing,” Winston said, via ESPN.
Winston, along with many other NFL veterans are looking at new Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions in 2021 and preparing for war. Issues including player safety and discipline have become so divisive between the players and the NFL owners that Winston is willing to hold out—even if it means the end of the NFL.
In fact, Winston said a year earlier that “If 2011 repeats itself, everyone needs to be ready. We will be talking about that, and guys always need to be prepared.”
Winston is familiar with the process of negotiating with NFL owners—having ridden that roller coaster for the last CBA in 2011—and he is prepared to fight tooth and nail this time around.
“[The NFL owners] are the ones that stopped the game in 2011, not us,” Winston said in 2016. “So if they want to lock us out again, we need to be prepared and we need to take every step before that and after that to defend ourselves.”
In short, Winston is telling players to save their money now, because there’s a good chance they won’t be making game checks in 2021.
At least, that’s what he thought in August, 2017. But recently, Vince McMahon announced that he was bringing back the XFL.
Tasked with the mission to give football back to the fans, the XFL is theoretically going to showcase everything that NFL lacks: simpler rules, quicker pace of play, and political neutrality among other things.
Perhaps the XFL could give something to the players, too. Maybe, something along the lines of a favorable CBA.
The only thing McMahon is missing to make the XFL compete with the NFL would be star players. When asked about including players such as Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow, or Colin Kaepernick, McMahon did not give a direct answer.
But it is clear that he will have to build the XFL off of the backs of NFL drop-outs. Even so, McMahon wants to “have a quality product” without being “a development league for the NFL.”
Perhaps the best way to achieve that goal is to reach out to the NFLPA, who could be holding out early on into the XFL’s development. With the first season of play in the XFL projected to take place in the winter of 2020, McMahon has a chance to prove that the XFL could be a viable option for players who refuse to play in the NFL.
The XFL could turn out to be an unexpected blessing for Winston and the NFLPA. Now the players have an alternative employment option if playing in the NFL is too much. Instead of relying on money saved up, these players can go make money in the XFL while endearing themselves to the fans and the media.
NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell should be worried. The XFL has just given the NFLPA an extra amount leverage that might force the NFL to make more concessions in the upcoming CBA. Thanks to an alternative source for professional football, the NFL could lose millions of dollars if the NFLPA turns to the XFL.
Not only can the NFLPA leverage the XFL against the NFL owners, but it could flip the media in a direction that casts the NFL in poor lighting. Now the media will have professional football to cover and the fans will have something to watch. Instead of covering athletes sitting at home, the media can cover ongoing football. In that case, the owners would have no one but themselves to blame for a lockout that keeps the NFL from kicking off.
The XFL might turn out to be a huge win for the NFLPA, and might prevent another lockout, a la 2011. Winston would be foolish to keep the XFL in his back pocket during negotiations.