Posted by Chase Stuart on April 1, 2010
Per Patrick W's request, I'm going to spend the next couple of days looking at how the 1987 player's strike impacted the NFL. There have been thousands of pages written on the 1987 strike, so any analysis here would be woefully inadequate. But to provide at least some color on the event, let's start at the beginning.
Part I: Labor History
In 1956, the NFL Players Associated was formed. It's original goal was to create a minimum salary for all players and to gain some benefits that would be considered standard today. Threatened by a lawsuit, the NFL owners mostly gave into the players' demand, but refused to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA. In 1968, a brief lockout and subsequent strike occurred. It ended when, with Art Modell serving as NFL President and Chairman of the Owners Labor Committee, the players and owners negotiated the sport's first CBA, guaranteeing veteran players a minimum salary of $10,000. When the AFL and NFL merged, so did the league's respective Player Associations.
And, in the summer of 1970, the newly merged NFL saw its first strike. A new CBA was created, the minimum salary was raised to $13,000 and a more favorably pension plan was approved. By 1974, the NFLPA had become a stronger organization, and was ready to tackle the NFL on more serious issues. The PA wanted to eliminate the option clause and the Rozelle rule, which created a serious barrier to free agency; the PA also demanded that the NFL eliminate the draft, abolish and the waiver system, and begin including guaranteed contracts. The owners didn't budge, and the players went on strike for 42 days. The owners stayed tough, so the players called off the strike and instead chose to take the NFL to court.
The NFLPA's lawsuit lasted until 1976, but the players won; the owners were found guilty of violating federal labor and antitrust laws. The Rozelle rule was declared to be an unfair restraint of trade. As defined by the court, the "Rozelle Rule essentially provided that when a player's contractual obligation to a team expired and he signed with a different club, the signing club had to provide compensation to the player's former team. If the two clubs were unable to conclude mutually satisfactory arrangements, the Commissioner could award compensation in the form of one or more players and/or draft choices as he deemed fair and equitable." But after winning the case, the players used their new leverage not to force free agency but to increase their salaries. Following the lawsuit, the NFL and the NFLPA met to discuss a new CBA for the '77 season. Heres what happened:
In 1977 the NFLPA and the league negotiated a new deal in which the owners successfully convinced the players to accept compensation for those players affected by the Rozelle Rule while leaving a form of the compensation system in place. Under the new agreement benefits for players were upgraded and arbitration was introduced as a method to settle contract impasses. The subjective power to determine team move compensation on a case by case basis was removed from the commissioner's office and converted into a value based system that determined due compensation to the old team based on the value of the player's new contract with the new team.
Not anticipated by the player's association was the huge increases in revenue experienced by the league in the late 1970s due to the increasing popularity of the game itself as well as the addition of two regular season games (taking the schedule from 14 games to 16) and the expansion of the playoff field from eight to 10 teams in 1978.
The unintended and unforeseen consequence of this success was an increase in the size of new player contracts. Under the system agreed upon in 1977 many new player contracts now qualified the original team for compensation of up to or exceeding a first round pick from the new team; the compensation system was fixed based on lower overall average contract numbers and did not have a sliding scale based on growth in average contract size. As such movement between teams was still depressed.
It didn't take long for the NFLPA to realize it needed to fix players salaries to revenue; one of the goals for the '77 CBA was to get 55% of gross revenue given to the players, but the NFLPA gave up on that issue. But with drastically rising revenue, that decision proved to be foolhardy. Five years later, the players went on strike and the league canceled seven games during the 1982 season. And when it ended, not much had changed. The players still wanted the 55% rule; the owners still didn't want it. The two sides agreed to give the players a lot more money, in addition to more benefits, and to remove the cloud over contracts; previously, players had no idea what other players were making. Once they were able to find out the salaries of their teammates, salaries naturally began to rise. Additionally, the two sides agreed on a CBA that would take ensure labor peace... until 1987.
And that brings us to the 1987 strike. Just as in 1982, the players went on strike at the conclusion of week 2 of the NFL season. The NFL owners responded by choosing to hire replacement players if the real players would not play. The league canceled games for week 3 to allow the coaches to bring the replacement players up to speed. And in what was originally scheduled to be weeks 4, 5 and 6 of the NFL season, replacement players played in the NFL. The NFLPA saw this was a losing battle, and caved:
The 1987 strike ended in total defeat for the NFL Players Association. Having lost all leverage, the players crawled back to work without winning free agency, without winning a guaranteed share of league revenue, without even reaching agreement on a collective bargaining agreement. The owners' victory was so crushing that in 1989 the Players Association actually went out of business as a union; under federal labor law, workers gained standing to file class-action lawsuits against their employers only if they didn't belong to a union. Therefore, having been utterly thwarted in their 1987 strike, the players took the radical step of decertifying the union two years later to pursue their goals in court.
Part II: Team performance during the strike
Enough about history and labor disputes -- what happened on the field? Some teams, like the 49ers and the Redskins, were well prepared for the strike. Other teams put almost no effort into finding replacement players, thinking it might offend their real players. Some stars crossed the picket line after one or two weeks; most never crossed. But when you look at team statistics from the 1987 season, they feel flawed; they're 80% (or more) like every other season, but close to 20% of the statistics were compiled by replacement players. What I hope to do, over the next two days, is separate out the efforts of the replacement players from the performances by the real ones.
For starters, we can look at SRS ratings for the "replacement teams" during weeks 3, 4 and 5 of the '87 season (aka originally scheduled weeks 4, 5 and 6). It should be obvious that you need to take these SRS ratings with a huge grain of salt -- they're based on only three games (and therefore highly susceptible to outliers) along with the very faulty assumption that the teams had substantially the same roster in each of those three games. That said, the table below shows SRS ratings, margin of victory (with victories of more than 24 points counted as the average of 24 and the actual number), strength of schedule, and actual wins and losses.
|New Orleans Saints||9.0||12.1||21.1||2||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||-1.7||19.6||17.9||1||2|
|San Francisco 49ers||12.3||4.8||17.1||3||0|
|New England Patriots||2.7||5.5||8.2||2||1|
|Los Angeles Rams||-6.0||13.1||7.1||1||2|
|New York Jets||-5.7||6.5||0.8||1||2|
|San Diego Chargers||6.7||-12.0||-5.4||3||0|
|New York Giants||-16.5||9.7||-6.8||0||3|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2.3||-12.8||-10.4||2||1|
|Green Bay Packers||2.3||-15.4||-13.0||2||1|
|Los Angeles Raiders||-2.3||-17.6||-19.9||1||2|
|Kansas City Chiefs||-19.5||-12.5||-32.0||0||3|
- The Cardinals had a brutally difficult schedule, facing the the three best teams they could face, with two of those games coming on the road. By beating New Orleans, and losing one-score games in San Francisco and Washington, St. Louis manages to finish in the top three in SRS despite a 1-2 record.
- On the other hand, the '87 Broncos strike team was not nearly as good as their 2-1 record. Denver lost by 30 at home to the Oilers, before beating up on the two worst teams in the league. For the LA Raiders, their only victory was against the pitiful Chiefs.
- The Jets got some travel breaks due to the strike; New York only played true road game outside of its division in 1987. The Jets, scheduled to have 8 road games, lost one when the week 3 games were canceled, and played the last game of the season "at" the New York Giants. The faux Falcons were the only replacement team to play host for all three games, although a tough strength of schedule more than made up for that; the strike Chargers had to travel for all three matchups, but used stepping stones wearing Chiefs and Raiders uniforms to join the 49ers and Redskins as the only undefeated replacement teams.
Part III: Real players, fake games
A bunch of real NFL players, including some of the game's biggest stars, played during weeks 3, 4 and 5 of the '87 season. Who crossed the picket line? The following is an incomplete list of players who crossed the picket line and played during one of the three strike games; only players who recorded a major statistic (i.e., nearly all skill position players, a handful of defensive players, and almost no linemen) or any player who played in 13, 14 or 15 games are included. Because of the inaccurate way of deciding when a player crossed the picket line, there are bound to be many errors in this (i.e., player crosses after week 3, is on the roster but does not record a stat in week 4, records stats in week 5, and gets counted as crossing before week 5). This is just meant to provide a very rough guideline (and, obviously, all the players crossed no later than when they're listed as crossing):
Played in the first strike game
|Too Tall Jones||dal||36||DE||97|
Crossed no later than after the first strike game was played
Crossed no later than after the second strike game was played
Part IV: Stats leaders
Here were the top QBs during the three weeks of replacement player games:
|Jeff Van Raaphorst||2||yes||18||34||174||1||2||3.1||1||6||0|
Top running backs
Top receivers and tight ends
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at how the "real" players performed during the 12 "real" games of the 1987 season, again using the SRS; I'll also take a look at what could have been in the NFL had the strike never happened.