A friend asked me why the owners locked out the players at this point in the negotiation. Here is my answer without much editing. Why do more work than you have to?
1. The owners are not happy with the current deal.
2. If the owners did not lock out the players, they would have to come up with rules for free agency, etc. to govern the league until the settlement was reached.
3. If they came up with their own rules, they would most likely put at least as strict rules on player movement as they have now, or else they would not have opted out of the old CBA to begin with.
4. The players’ union, which has decertified would then have a good case to sue the league for an anti-trust violation, because if there is no union (and therefore no CBA), then a group of separate businesses cannot come together to impose restriction on the movement of workers (think if Alcoa, Alcan and Rio Tinto came together and decided that they could spend no more than $500,000/yr on mechanical engineers in their respective companies, and that these were the only companies mechanical engineers could work for.)
5. By locking out the players, the league achieves maximum leverage (if their argument that the players’ union decertifying is a sham holds up). If the NFL were to impose work rules similar to the previous CBA, then the players would not have much incentive to do a deal that reduced their slice of revenue…they would just go on playing. If the owners imposed draconian rules on player movement, then not only would the players likely succeed in an anti-trust suit, they would also be able to strike at any time during the season. The later into the season, the more leverage the players would have (play-offs and Super Bowl). Also, the free agents would have received their signing bonuses, easing the financial pressure on them. Plus, if the players continued to play by the rules that were similar to previous rules, it would likely aid them in defending against the owner’s argument that the decertification was a sham.
6. The players are fighting that effort, because they understand all this, and would be happy to continue by the old rules.