If you're like me, you have probably spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decipher what exactly has transpired over the past few weeks. I'm not going to law school, but I have learned enough legal jargon to pass the state BAR test.
If you fall into this category, you have heard that this dispute is largely because the owners and players cannot agree on how much of the "football revenue" (which, for some reason, is different from "total revenue") goes to the players and owners. They are off by about three-quarters of a billion dollars, supposedly.
While this may be true, this is not where the real battle is being fought. The real battle lies between the small and large market owners. Large markets, like the Jets, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins, and Eagles want no part of this dispute. Do you really think they care about pocketing a few extra million bucks? No. These owners, like Jerry Jones, Jeffery Luire, and John Mara are in the league to win championships. They will make some kind of profit regardless of how their team plays.
However, teams like Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego, Jacksonville, and Carolina play under completely different circumstances. These owners are not only trying to make a profit, they want to compete. This is unlike a lot of team in say, the MLB, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who mail it in every year and try to make a quick buck with a charade of a baseball team.
This is why there were reports of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson flipping out on Peyton Manning. Do you think it is even worth Woody Johnson's time to do something like that? He has nothing riding on this deal except for another season to compete for a Lombardi trophy. Jerry Richardson, however, has his ownership at stake. If he gets a bad deal that does not give the small market teams sufficient revenues to compete with the big market teams, his team, along with the other Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills of the world, will fade into irrelevancy like we see in other leagues.
What makes the NFL special is these small market teams can win just as easily as the big time, metro teams. Success on the football field is directly related to how your organization is run - whether you hire the right front office people, coaches, scouts, provide good facilities, and surround your organization with a winning attitude. These are all things that are within an owner's control - something unique of other sports. It is no fluke that some of the best-run teams were in the conference championships - Steelers, Packers, and the Jets (I'm a bit skeptical of the Bears).
The small market owners are using the players as a way to negotiate (well, now litigate) their way toward financial system that allows their teams to continue to compete, regardless of market size. The players are not the enemy to the owners, just a means of getting what they want.