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Richard Sherman says NFL players ‘have to be willing to strike’ for better pay. Would they?

The Seahawks cornerback is right, and we’ll find out in four years if players have the wherewithal to follow through.

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Pro Bowl Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

If NFL players want the kind of money their counterparts in the NBA or MLB are getting, or things like guaranteed contracts, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman says they’re going to have to strike in 2021 when the current labor deal lapses.

Sherman was asked about it before the ESPYs on Wednesday night:

"If we want as the NFL, as a union, to get anything done, players have to be willing to strike. That's the thing that guys need to 100 percent realize.

"You're going to have to miss games, you're going to have to lose some money if you're willing to make the point, because that's how MLB and NBA got it done. They missed games, they struck, they flexed every bit of power they had, and it was awesome. It worked out for them."

The economics of how a new labor agreement would look with guaranteed contracts, more pay, etc. are complicated. But before they can start to hammer that out at the bargaining table, the first question to ask is whether players are willing to take that step when push comes to shove.

Careers are shorter in the NFL than they are in any other sport, averaging as low as 2.5 years. In the past, that’s been a factor limiting the willingness to strike. A labor stoppage that goes on too long cuts into already short careers.

The other issue is money. Not every player signs the kind of contract that franchise quarterbacks or top pass rushers do. In fact, average salaries and veteran minimums are a little misleading. A significant amount of players are playing on rookie contracts — four-year deals for players picked in the second through seventh rounds of the draft, less for the gaggle of undrafted free agents teams sign — which makes them a preferred option for owners, labor locked in at below market value.

And there’s the simple fact that players have to have money to get by when their giving up game checks. It’s easier for the stars who signed multi-million dollar contracts, but the bulk of players don’t make that kind of money.

The NFLPA had a small lockout fund in 2011, but it was nothing compared to the $4 billion owners were sitting on thanks to guaranteed television contracts. Eventually, the player’s union got pressure from the inside to get a deal done the last time with the prospect of missing games on the horizon.

Before the NFLPA can put any demands on the table for the next collective bargaining agreement, they’ll first have to figure out a way to take care of players during a potential strike.

They’ve already started encouraging their members to save money for a potential work stoppage. That’s definitely one step, but a lot of the players in the game today won’t be in the league anymore in 2021. The NFLPA has a lockout fund, and recently approved a plan to add millions from merchandising royalties to money set aside from member dues into a war chest.

Will that be enough?

Here’s a little math for you. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has an estimated net worth of $5.2 billion. The Cowboys are spending, roughly, $146 million in cash for player salaries this year (not cap spending). This year’s payroll in Dallas would be less than three percent of what Jones is worth. You tell me who’s in a better position to withstand a labor stoppage.

Sherman’s right — players aren’t getting a better labor deal unless they miss games. We’ll see if they follow through.