1970s: The NFLPA Becomes a Real Union
The NFL and AFL merged and so did the AFLPA with the NFLPA, with players electing John Mackey as its first President. The organization was officially certified by the NLRB as a union and went on strike in the first real fight for free agency under the mantra, “No Freedom, No Football.” John Mackey sued the NFL challenging the “Rozelle Rule” which unfairly restricted player movement.
January 1970: The NFLPA and AFLPA join forces for the first time to bargain with owners. Despite initial tension and distrust, the two sides come to a compromise and choose John Mackey as the new president.
Spring 1970: After NFL owners request that lawyers not be present during CBA negotiations and that players stop asking for increased preseason pay, the NFLPA files with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to become a certified union.
July 1970: Following a brief lockout by the league, players go on a strike for two days. With owners threatening to cancel the season, a new, four-year CBA is reached. Highlights include:
- Players can now bargain through their own agents with clubs
- Minimum salaries increase to $12,500 for rookies and $13,000 for veterans.
- Pensions improve and dental insurance is added
- Injury grievances now had neutral arbitration
- Meaningful player representation on the Retirement Board
Following the CBA negotiations, many player reps were released by their teams and Mackey was traded to San Diego, where his career ended a year later.
1971: Attorney Ed Garvey is elected as the NFLPA’s first executive director. Also, the NFLPA opens its first office in Washington, D.C.
July 1, 1974: With the 1970 CBA set to expire, the players go on strike under the slogan: “No freedom, no football.”
August 10, 1974: The strike ends without a CBA for the next three seasons.
1976: Following a three-year legal battle, the NFLPA wins Mackey v. NFL, ending the “Rozelle Rule” that allowed the commissioner, at his discretion, to compensate any team losing a free agent with money or draft picks taken from the other club. Because of this, player movement was severely limited.
March 1977: A new CBA is created, but the resulting “free agency” system makes for very little player movement. Most teams are unwilling to give up a first-round draft choice (or more) to sign a free agent under the first refusal/draft pick compensation system.