DeMaurice Smith

DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA just got some leverage.

The owners and players’ union are continuing to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and I heard it was actually going well today, as opposed to just about every other day, where little was accomplished.

I figured with tomorrow being the official start of the league year things were picking up, but then I came across another item. I’m not in the negotiating room, so I can’t say for sure, but it seems like the owners have been largely inflexible up to this point.

That all changed yesterday when a federal judge ruled the NFL’s broadcast contracts for the 2011 season illegal.

Judge David S. Doty found the league didn’t act with the players’ interests in mind when negotiating those deals, that the NFL had stockpiled around $4 billion in anticipation of a lockout and, in fact, had been planning it for several years.

Suddenly, the players gained quite a bit of leverage.

The ruling means the owners won’t have access to the 2011 TV money, just as the players won’t receive their salaries. So now, if there’s a lockout, no one’s getting their money.

The NFLPA released this statement following the ruling.

“This ruling means there is irrefutable evidence that owners had a premeditated plan to lock out players and fans for more than two years. The players want to play football. That is the only goal we are focused on.”

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it should be noted the ruling can be appealed. However, it puts the pressure to strike a deal squarely on the owners, who previously seemed more than content to sit around and wait the NFLPA out until August or September.

If you’d like a simplified breakdown of all the legal mumbo jumbo and what it means, Barry Petchesky breaks it down at Deadspin.