Posts Tagged: NFL


Each year, ESPN The Magazine produces the ‘NEXT’ issue: an annual look at the athletes that it feels will be the breakout stars in the not-too-distant future.

But the “Worldwide Leader” got it wrong with the cover subject of its most recent edition. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton isn’t “next.” He’s right now.

In the magazine, ESPN advises us that the faces in the ‘NEXT’ issue are the ones to watch in 2012. But we’ve already spent the past four months watching Newton toy with opposing defenses, racking up ridiculous numbers in his wake.

This season, not only did Newton set the record for most passing yards by a rookie (4,051), but he single-handedly accounted for 35 touchdowns in 2011 (21 passing, 14 rushing). Newton also became the first player in the history of the NFL to pass for more than 4,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in a single season.

Not bad for a player who was red-flagged by many teams as someone who would have difficulty grasping a pro-style offense.

Newton’s play has already spawned a number of accolades, as well as his fair share of nicknames (“Superman”, “The Black Clark Kent”, “The Black Panther”). But while awards and adulation are all well and good, Newton has his eyes on the true prize.

"I want to be the symbol of success in this league," said Newton in an interview with ESPN. “I want to win multiple Super Bowls.”

Even as a rookie, Newton realizes that true greatness comes with wins, and those will come over time. With two picks in the top 40 selections of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Panthers are in prime position to surround Newton with the talent that he’ll need to make a lasting impact on the NFL.

But after amassing over 4,700 yards of offense with a team whose No. 2 and No. 3 receivers were Brandon LaFell and Legedu Naanee, it’s fair to ask the question: Just how good can Cam Newton be?

"I know I have the talent to change this game, and I don’t see no ceiling," said Newton in an interview with ESPN. “So I’m not knocking on the door, like tap-tap-tap. I’m gonna kick that door in, like SWAT.”

Newton’s rookie campaign hasn’t been without its fair share of missteps, but most of them have occurred off of the field. In an early December interview, he erred by referring to the Carolina Panthers as a “tarnished house where losing is accepted" and implied that teammates needed to get on his level of play.

In another interview with ESPN, Newton invoked the names of two other black quarterbacks in response to allegations that much of negativity surrounding him prior to the 2011 NFL Draft was fueled by race.

"I can’t sit up here and look at it like, oh man, my critics are racist," Newton said. "I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up?"

For whatever reason, Newton inexplicably compared his situation to two players who have no discernible link to the former Auburn quarterback. The pre-draft criticism of Newton—whether thinly-veiled in racism or not—is in no way analogous to the self-inflicted damage Russell and Young inflicted upon themselves.

Fortunately for Newton, in today’s attention span deprived society, his comments will soon be forgotten. He will learn from these mistakes just as he learns how to attack opposing defenses each week during film study.

What’s unfolding in front of us is the perfect case study in taking the road less traveled towards NFL superstardom. 36 months ago, Cam Newton transferred to Blinn College in Brenham, TX after being suspended by the University of Florida for being in possession of a stolen laptop. Today, he’s the next big thing in the NFL.

Scratch that. Newton is already a big thing. And it’s safe to say that his advice to his critics is the same advice he’d give to those who still aren’t paying attention.

"Just sit back and watch the show."


This past Sunday afternoon, tens of thousands of Philadelphia Eagles fans sat at the Linc, in their living rooms, or in their neighborhood watering holes, rooting on their beloved football team.

And as we watched the Eagles slowly unravel in the fourth quarter yet again this season, the question that many of us have been trying to avoid for weeks slowly began to create a sense of doubt in the backs of our heads…

Are we going about this the wrong way?

It’s clear that something needs to change. When a team loaded with offensive talent adds Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a busy offseason, there is no reason that team should ever begin a year with a 3-6 record. None.

We all know what needs to happen. We also know that nothing is going to happen unless the wheels completely fall off of this debacle known as the 2011 season. And while it’s hard for many of us to reconcile the fact that losing games is a good thing in the long term, it may be the only way for our team to reclaim its past glory.

Because at this point, isn’t rooting for Andy Reid akin to embracing mediocrity?

For the better part of 13 years, Reid has been the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. And for the 13th year - barring a miracle from on high - Reid will not be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.

In just two short months, the mood surrounding this team has gone from excitement to concern to flat-out apathy. We’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to cheering for a squad that’s no better than mediocre, despite a roster filled with former Pro Bowlers.

Yet we continue to watch. Granted, it’s probably ingrained somehow in our double helixes, but we continue to hope and wish and pray that the Eagles win each week, even though that just means we’ll get more of the same out of Reid.

Andy Reid apologists will be quick to suggest that their beloved coach deserves a mulligan for 2011. After all, the Eagles haven’t had a losing season since 2005, and the team has won six division titles and an NFC Championship during his tenure.

But here’s the thing: Andy Reid doesn’t deserve anything. As those mutual fund commercials have taught us, past performance is not an indicator of future success. So if Andy Reid isn’t the best option to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl, then the team owes it to itself - and to us, by extension - to hire the best man for the job.

That isn’t to say that the team has quit on Reid this year. But there’s no excuse for losing to a 2-6 Arizona team at home, especially with the Cardinals missing the services of Kevin Kolb.

Sure, the Eagles were without one of their most potent weapons on offense (Desean Jackson) on Sunday. But with the best dual-threat RB in the NFL (Lesean McCoy), a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout (Jeremy Maclin), and a $100 million man at quarterback (Michael Vick), scoring 10 points on offense against the league’s fourth-worst pass defense is completely unacceptable.

Clearly, this isn’t as bad as 1998 - the final year of the Ray Rhodes era when the team went winless on the road and only scored 161 points for the entire season. Nor is it as dreadful as the 1994 campaign when the Eagles lost their last seven games, ushering in the end of the Rich Kotite era. But it isn’t far off.

This weekend, we saw the Eagles blow a 4th quarter lead for the fifth time in nine games - an NFL record. And yet after the game, Reid provided the same rote answers he always does when speaking to the media.

Not that we should have expected anything of substance. These days, Andy Reid press conferences are nothing more than the verbal equivalent of a paint-by-numbers exercise.

Let the record show that this is a man who was arrogant enough to name his offensive line coach his defensive coordinator, and then bristle at the suggestion that it wasn’t the most logical choice. Of course, this is also a man who has enjoyed carte blanche ever since he arrived in Philadelphia back in 1999.

But until that’s taken away from him, we are forced to deal with someone who - after more a decade at the helm - still struggles with the not-so-finer points of time management. A mediocre talent evaluator whose recent draft history leaves plenty to be desired. And a head coach who can make decisions without consequence until the one man who can effect a change finally comes to the realization that most of us have consented to long ago.

Jeffery Lurie? Time’s yours.


Last Thursday, ESPN announced that they have agreed to an eight-year, $15.2-billion extension of their current Monday Night Football rights deal. The contract will allow the network to broadcast the NFL's premier weekly showcase through the 2021 season.

Aside from the actual games, ESPN also plans to produce 500 new hours of NFL-related programming each year: some of which (NFL Kickoff) will be engrossing and entertaining, while some (Audibles) will be borderline unbearable to watch.

On the digital side, the agreement allows ESPN to stream its NFL content to Verizon mobile phones, as well as to its WatchESPN application. Beginning this season, fans will be able to watch Monday Night Football on iPads or similar tablet devices.

"With a multitude of shows, networks and platforms, ESPN will continue to cover the NFL like no other media company can," said ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer.

The additional distribution channels will result in additional revenue streams for ESPN, but they won’t be nearly enough for the network to fully recoup the full expense of the deal.

Which is where you come in.

News of the extension—which represents a nearly 73-percent increase over the $1.1 billion per year that ESPN had been spending on Monday Night Football—led American Cable Association President Matthew Polka to issue the following statement:

"ESPN has struck a bad bargain for consumers. The sports network’s financially wanton deal will push the cost of pay-TV service into the stratosphere, making the product less and less affordable during a time of severe economic stress and high unemployment. Evidently, ESPN is pleased to be known as the worldwide leader of hyper-inflationary price hikes."

With more than 98 percent of U.S. cable providers currently offering ESPN, the network already generates billions in subscriber revenue each year, not to mention the advertising dollars brought in by the actual programs themselves.

There’s no question that the new agreement will result in increased subscriber fees for cable operators and, ultimately, consumers. As it stands now, ESPN charges the highest rates in the industry: the network’s entire suite of offerings checks in at more than $5 per subscriber per month.

As consumers of pay television—which is the case for approximately 85 percent of ]U.S. households—we don’t have much say in the matter. Currently, we don’t enjoy the freedom to select the channels that we want on an “a la carte” basis. The Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007 was designed to give individuals that flexibility, but the bill continues to sit in committee more than four years after its proposal.

Besides, with ESPN continually building its portfolio of broadcast agreements with various leagues (including the NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, FIFA and the PGA Tour), it becomes increasingly more difficult for cable, fiber and satellite providers not to carry the Worldwide Leader on their respective systems.

As we learned in "Those Guys Have All The Fun," broadcast rights are key, which is why every major network made a play at the 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games this past June. Expect to see a similar bidding war if and when the NFL decides to offer a package of Thursday night games.

ESPN executives clearly understand this, which is why they’ve paid a premium for the Monday Night Football broadcast rights ever since they acquired them back in 2006. More rights mean an increased demand for the network, at very little expense to them. After all, they’ll just pass the cost on to you: the consumer.

Are you ready for some (more expensive) football?


It began, of course, with a camera.

A 16mm Bell and Howell wind-up camera, to be exact. A Philadelphia overcoat salesman by the name of Edwin Milton Sabol had received it as a gift some years earlier, and the proud father used the camera to film the milestone moments in the life of his son Steve: his first birthday, his first haircut and his first football game.

"It’s the kind of story you would read in the old Saturday Evening Post,” said NFL Films president Steve Sabol, during a recent interview on The Broad Street Line podcast. “NFL Films began with a wedding present.”

That wedding present awakened something inside of the elder Sabol, who was less than enamored with his day job working for his father-in-law. So, in 1962, he did what any man with a few extra dollars and a passion for film-making would have done in his situation.

He bought the rights to film the NFL Championship Game. 

And ever since that moment, the National Football League has never been the same. 

On August 6, Ed Sabol—co-founder of NFL Films—will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fittingly enough, he is the only person elected to the Hall who isn’t a former player, coach, commissioner or owner. 

It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, to say the least. But it’s been a long road to Canton for a man who is now known as the “King of Football Movies.” 

If Ed Sabol had resigned himself to a career of selling coats in the early ’60s, he would have had no reason to be ashamed. In his earlier years, he served in World War II, spent time as a vaudeville performer and was a champion swimmer who declined an invitation to the 1936 Berlin Olympics because he refused to swim in a pool that was built by Adolf Hitler. 

So it’s easy to see why a man who once served under General George Patton could easily decide that the day-to-day grind of being a salesman wasn’t how he intended to spend the rest of his years. 

At the age of 45, fed up with his current station in life, Sabol took a trip to the NFL offices in New York City and submitted a bid of $5,000 for the rights to film the 1962 NFL Championship Game. After a three-martini lunch at the infamous Jockey Club, the man known as “Big Ed” convinced then-commissioner Pete Rozelle to accept his offer. 

For someone who didn’t enjoy being a salesman, Sabol did an outstanding job selling himself as a viable candidate to Rozelle. After all, on his resume, Sabol listed “filming my 14-year-old son” as his only previous experience filming football. 

His years of filming his son Steve’s practices at the Haverford School paid off as Ed Sabol received a great deal of acclaim for his movie about the 1962 NFL Championship entitled “Pro Football’s Longest Day.” Buoyed by that success, he was able to acquire the rights to both the 1963 and 1964 title games. 

Less than three years after his initial meeting with Rozelle, Sabol convinced the league’s 14 owners to each invest $20,000 into his fledgling film company.

And thus, NFL Films was born. 

Long before the YouTube era, years before the instant gratification provided to us by the ESPN family of networks, the chance to watch highlights of a football game was a special occasion. A filmmaker in the truest sense of the word, Ed Sabol let the camera tell the story: purposefully shooting each play in slow motion, and not resorting to gimmicks and tricks to create his films. 

"We took what every fan felt, and added music and sound, and glorified it, and amplified it and put it on the screen," said Steve Sabol. 

Every football fan over the age of 25 is familiar with the booming baritone of John Facenda, or the unique cadence of the late Harry Kalas. Even so, it’s not often that we step back and think about those behind the scenes—those responsible for providing us with the moving words and pictures that stir feelings inside of us long after the games have been played. 

NFL Films’ dedication and commitment to their work has provided us with countless images that have been indelibly burned into our minds: Mike Singletary's menacing glare just prior to the snap; Dwight Clark reaching to the heavens to haul in a Joe Montana pass; Joe Namath raising his right index finger in exultation as he left the field following Super Bowl III. 

There is no comparison in any other sport to the work that NFL Films has done over the years. Simply put, Ed Sabol is the reason why most of us fell in love with football. 

"My father’s great talent was not only the ideas, but he created an environment here that promoted that kind of creativity," said Steve. "He put quality before any other consideration." 

Forty-nine years and 105 Emmy Awards later, Ed Sabol’s creative spirit lives on. 

It’s fair to question why it has taken so long for Sabol to have been selected for induction. Although he never played a single down of professional football, one could argue that he has contributed more to the game than anyone who has been elected to this point.

Until earlier this year, Ed never worried about being inducted into Canton. All he ever wanted to do was to make films, and he got a chance to do that with his son Steve, an accomplished artist in his own right. Ed handed the reins of the company to the younger Sabol some 26 years ago, and NFL Films hasn’t missed a beat since.

What began as a small outfit known as Blair Motion Pictures now occupies a $45 million complex in Mount Laurel, N.J. The corridors of the various buildings are lined with Emmys—tangible testaments to the work that has been done each and every year since an overcoat salesman to at trip to New York with a $5,000 check and a dream.

The ultimate recognition will come on August 6, however. Just as in the beginning, Ed—clad in his customary red socks—and Steve Sabol will be together again. This weekend, things will be a bit different. This time, all of the cameras will be turned on them.

Then again, some things will be as they always are. On Saturday night, you can be sure that they’ll find a way to tell a story or two. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s something that the Sabols are pretty good at doing. After all, they’ve been doing it for the better part of the past 50 years.

"Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn," said Steve Sabol back in January. "Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe. But if you tell me a story, it’ll live in my heart forever."


Former Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb is like that crazy ex-girlfriend who’ll never go away.

He’s like the kid who interrupts the spades game at the family reunion just to tell you that he made honor roll in the third marking period.

But during his latest plea for attention last week – a week in which he worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles and appeared in a video telling his doubters that he’ll no longer throw bounce passes like Bob Cousy – McNabb actually had a moment of clarity. 

On Thursday, McNabb appeared on ESPN Chicago’s “Waddle and Silvy” radio show and offered the following:  ”First of all, I’m not a fan of tweeting; I’m not a fan of Twitter.  Nothing against their program or what they have, but as an athlete I think you need to get off of Twitter.”

In response to players who criticize their fellow athletes on the social networking site, McNabb said:  ”I don’t believe that that’s the right deal… So I think for an athlete to be twittering is the wrong move. It’s one that leads to the fans and let them comment on certain things, but athletes need to get off Twitter.”

He’s absolutely right.

For most athletes, Twitter is a no-win situation.

Milwaukee Bucks’ forward Chris Douglas-Roberts (@cdouglasroberts) gains nothing by telling his followers about the linen shorts that he wears while relaxing on the Cayman Islands (shorts that happen to be embroidered with the self-granted nickname “Flyonel Ritchie”).  Sixers’ center Marreese Speights won’t gain any fans with his jokes about overweight women who frequent IHOP, nor with his repeated pleas of “Free Lil’ Boosie.”

No one will deny that the service gives athletes an unprecedented way to reach out to their fans.  Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) is only a laptop or a cell phone away from connecting with his 770,000-plus followers, whether it is to ask them for advice, or to promote one of his off-court initiatives.

The flip side is that Twitter also allows fans to communicate directly with their favorite (or not-so-favorite) players like never before.  Previously, if someone wanted to rip an athlete, they would have to either call their local sports talk radio station, scream unpleasantries from their seat at the game, or sit down and compose a letter which wouldn’t likely be read.

Now, fans can tag their player of choice and fire off 140 characters of vitriol, a rant almost guaranteed to be viewed by its intended target the next time he (or she) logs into the social networking site.

New York Mets’ catcher Josh Thole (@josh_thole) shut down his Twitter account in May (calling it a “lose-lose situation”) after he was hammered with criticism during a hitting slump.  Sixers’ swingman Andre Iguodala closed his account (@AI9) early last season – either he didn’t see the value in having it, or he wasn’t able to withstand the heat from Sixers’ fans that undoubtedly ripped him during the team’s 3-13 start.

It’s not all one-sided, however.  Athletes have been known to start the fire themselves. The NFL lockout probably saved Steelers’ RB Rashard Mendenhall (@R_Mendenhall) from a suspension after his Osama bin Laden-related Twitter screed.  LeBron James (@KingJames) caught heat for his infamous “Karma is a b****” tweet, and then was utterly destroyed after posting “Now or Never” prior to Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and then going out and scoring as many points that night as J.J. Barea.

For those in the public eye, social media can potentially be very dangerous, as former House Rep. Anthony Weiner (@RepWeiner) can personally attest to. But when understood and used correctly, it can also be a perfect way to engage with tens of thousands of people easily and effectively. In the sports world, however, we’ve seen far too many cases where athletes would have been better off if there was some sort of filter between them and their followers.

So while it may pain some Eagles fans to agree with him, McNabb is probably right.  Unfortunately, the majority of players will likely dismiss his advice and continue posting as they always have.  Hopefully, unlike former Rep. Weiner, they don’t get caught with their pants down.


The deadline is fast approaching.

With the current NFL collective bargaining agreement set to expire on March 4, the league’s owners and players have less than two weeks to come to a deal, or else find themselves in the midst of the first work stoppage their sport has seen in nearly 25 years.

If recent talks are any indication, things are not looking good.

This wasn’t supposed to happen - at least not right now. Back in March 2006, the owners ratified the current collective barganing agreement by a 30-2 vote (the owners of the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals voted against it). By most accounts, the players received the better concessions in the deal, as the CBA granted them approximately 50% of all NFL revenues.

The agreement was originally set to expire in 2013, but the owners, who quickly became disenchanted with the deal, exercised their right in May of 2008 (with a 32-0 vote) to end the agreement two years early.

What would cause the owners to agree to terminate a deal that they had willingly signed a mere 26 months earlier? In a word: money.

In the current collective bargaining agreement, NFL receives the first $1 billion in total revenues, with the remaining monies divided between the league and the players (with the players receiving approximately 60% of that amount).

In their proposal for a new CBA, the owners would like to increase that figure to $2 billion, with the extra money covering league expenses. With current league revenues at $9.3 billion, that would equate to a loss of nearly $600 million for the NFLPA - 12 percent of their current share of league revenue.

Obviously, this is doesn’t sit well with the players’ association, especially with the owners pushing for an “enhanced” 18-game season without offering the players any significant concessions to that end. Add on the lack of guaranteed contracts, and the fact that the frequency of serious injuries and concussions is at an all-time high, and that’s why a lockout almost seems inevitable at this point.

Both sides realize the impact that a potential work stoppage could have, but both have also drawn the proverbial line in the sand. And as is the case with most high-profile negotations, the two parties have made their respective positions available to anyone who chooses to listen.

"Staying with the status quo is not an option," wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in an op-ed column released on February 15. "The world has changed for everyone, including the NFL and our fans. We must get better in everything we do."

Meanwhile, the NFLPA held its One Team Tour this fall, partnering with local labor leaders at events around the country to give the fans their side of the story. They’ve also embarked on a advertising campaign called “Let Us Play” in which they make it known that they’re willing to play, but that the owners are the ones preventing that from happening.

So, from a fan perspective, what happens if there’s no agreement by March 4? In the short-term: not much. The annual Scouting Combine and NFL Draft (April 28-30) will still take place as usual.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. Since the players would literally be locked out of team facilities, there won’t be any post-draft mini-camps or team-organized offseason workouts of any sort.

More importantly, there can’t be any free agency period - the collective bargaining agreement sets the parameters on the amount of service time needed before becoming a restricted or unrestricted free agent.

That, added to the fact that no trades involving players can be made until a new CBA is reached, means that player movement will grind to a complete halt.

With no free agency and no trades, the draft itself could be markedly different from what we’re typically used to seeing. In many cases, teams use the draft to address positions that they were unable to fill via free agency. However, if there is no CBA (and/or no free agency period) before April 28, teams may have an entirely different strategy come draft day.

On a related note, another one of the owners’ priorities in these negotations is the demand for a true rookie wage scale, similar to the system currently in place in the NBA. This is clearly a move to avoid situations where teams are locked in to exorbitant deals with first-round picks who don’t play up to the team’s expectations.

Conversely, the NFLPA wants a similar setup to what is in place currently, but would like to reduce the maximum number of years on rookie contracts so that players can become free agents sooner.

While the two sides may be able to find common ground on that issue, it may be more difficult to do so in regards to player safety.

With the seemingly sudden rash of injuries in the NFL, there’s every reason to believe the NFLPA when they say that current league proposals to extend the season by two extra games are “unacceptable.”

According to the NFLPA, 352 players were placed on injured reserve this season, with an average of 9.5 games missed per person. When divided amongst the league’s 32 teams, that’s an average of exactly 11 players per organization, or more than 20 percent of a team’s active roster.

Without the league taking serious steps to address the NFLPA’s concerns regarding health/pension benefits and post-career medical coverage (among other issues), the owners’ desire for an 18-game season could become a major point of contention in the coming weeks and months.

Beginning today, representatives for both the NFL and the NFLPA are scheduled to meet for the better part of the next week. Since recent discussions haven’t been even remotely productive, the two sides agreed to federal mediation in the hopes that a third-party will bring them closer to a new deal.

Both the owners and players realize what’s at stake over the next few weeks, and now appear willing to do whatever it takes to get a deal done.

In a recent interview with Pro Football Talk, Arizona Cardinals’ kicker (and union representative) Jay Feely stated that it’s imperative that owners and players ratify a new agreement as soon as possible.

"We have record revenue, we have record TV ratings, we have record worth of franchises and players have never made more money," said Feely. "It is inherent on both sides to find a way to get a deal done."

"There has been enough rhetoric, litigation and other efforts beyond the negotiating table," wrote Goodell in his op-ed piece. "It is time for serious negotiations."


Save for the hulking presence of Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive lineman Winston Justice, last night’s NFL Players Association One Team Tour event at Philadelphia’s Water Works restaurant could have easily been confused with your typical Teamsters’ rally.

Flanked by current and former NFL players, members of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, and other local labor leaders, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith made an impassioned plea in support of the players, as negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement with NFL owners - and commissioner Roger Goodell - may soon threaten the start of the 2011 season.

"I don’t think either Roger or I are out there to try to send any messages to each other," said Smith. "It’s important for both of us to get a deal done as quickly as possible."

One of the goals of last night’s event, whether stated or otherwise, was to gain support from fans across the country - many of whom dismiss the negotations as one group of millionaires doing battle against another.

"We’re all in this together," said Eagles’ cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who is currently recovering from a career-threatening neck injury. "What I want to try to do is to show the fans that what you see on TV is not who we are. We’re just like you: we work hard, we play hard, and we just want the type of justice due to us."

In the eyes of the NFLPA, that justice would come in the form of a new collective bargaining agreement that’s fair and equitable to both sides. In a sport where the average career is only three and a half years, it is hard to fault the players, who are simply seeking financial security for the impact that the game has on their bodies.

"We want to play games, but we’re the ones out there playing, and we just want a fair deal," said Winston Justice, the Eagles’ NFLPA player representative. "We want to be out there more than the fans do, but we just want to be treated fairly."

With less than 90 days remaining before the current CBA runs out on March 3, both sides are bracing themselves for the very real possibility of a labor stoppage.

In a one-page letter dated December 1, Smith advised players to save their last three game checks of the 2010 season in preparation for a lockout. “The deadline has now passed,” Smith wrote. “It is important that you protect yourself and your family.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded to the letter by saying: “It is disappointing and inexplicable, especially for fans… We are ready to meet and negotiate anytime and anywhere… One side can’t do it alone.”

One of the major points of contention is the owners’ desire to expand the regular season to 18 games by reducing the preseason from four games to two. However, with the recent spike in concussions and other serious injuries, the NFLPA is strongly opposed to any changes to the 16-game schedule as it stands now.

"Given our current system, two extra games means a shorter career… exposes us to more injuries," said Smith. "That’s not moving forward - right now, that’s moving backward."

"I think it’s ridiculous," said Hobbs. "Me alone, to go through injuries time after time, day after day, the injury that I just suffered - now you’re adding two more games onto the end of that… I really don’t see it making sense."

It’s been 23 years since the NFL last faced labor discord. Back in 1987, the NFLPA went on strike for 24 days, but nearly 90 players crossed the picket lines, and the union quickly lost any leverage it had against the owners. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, the players’ union realizes that they need to stand to together in order to achieve their ultimate goal.

"We’re facing a lockout," said Smith. "Our players understand what the stakes are, and I’ve been brutal with them. If the players lack solidarity, we lose."