When Was the Last Time the NFL Went on Strike?

Lockouts are part of the plight of being a sports fan. While they typically never come to be, they occasionally impact a good chunk of a season. Since 1998, the NBA has seen two shortened seasons thanks to a lockout, and the NHL missed an entire season for similar issues. However, the NFLhttps://www.sportscasting.com/nfl-legend-adrian-peterson-once-compared-the-nfls-labor-strife-to-modern-day-slavery/ hasn’t had a full lockout during the season for over 30 years. Here’s what happened the last time the NFL went on strike

CBAs and sports 

CBA rights are why NFL players make the kind of money that they do, as ESPN explains. As a league’s financial situation changes throughout the years, so do the CBAs binding them to the contracts. This is how the players leverage their impact on the league to new deals and also explains why a significant boost in revenue can lead to sudden changes in player pay. 

While being a pro athlete may seem far different from an average job, players’ unions help them get treated fairly. Sometimes, however, the leagues come to an impasse. In 1994, the MLB famously had to cancel the last part of its season due to a lockout.

When players have an issue with a role that is in place, such as the NFLPA did in 1974, they can use new CBAs to force out anything that they do not believe serves their interest as employees. Lockouts and the threat of lockouts were commonplace in the early days of the NFL, but the league has done an excellent job minimizing the possibility of such events in recent years. 

However, the last actual lockout that caused them to miss games happened in the middle of the 1987 season. 

The 1987 NFL strike 

The 1987 NFL Strike at Mile Hi Stadium: Dan Merino (C) talks with Broncos players Dennis Smith (L) and Ricky Hunley of the NFLPA
The 1987 NFL Strike at Mile Hi Stadium: Dan Merino (C) talks with Broncos players Dennis Smith (L) and Ricky Hunley of the NFLPA | Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Two weeks into the 1987 NFL season, the previous CBA expired, details ESPN. Feeling that the NFL was not acting in good faith after several antitrust lawsuits, the players used the time to iron some things out. They ultimately went on strike during the third week of the season. While this canceled the first game, teams decided to take things into their own hands. 

Several big-name players, such as Joe Montana and Lawrence Taylor, crossed the picket line and resumed play. However, for players who didn’t cross the line, the teams signed veterans who were out of the league and players who’d previously been unable to cut it in the NFL. These replacement players were the bulk of the NFL talent for several weeks, as a difficult negotiation took place behind the scenes.

This type of midseason drama is what makes strikes so dangerous. Players risk losing goodwill, and owners risk losing money. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, and a new CBA was agreed upon soon after. It was the last true strike in the NFL, although the league came remarkably close several years later. 

The lockout that wasn’t


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In 2011, NFL players and owners came the closest they have since 1987 on a lockout that would’ve taken away the start of the upcoming season, reports Forbes. However, in the weeks leading up to the forthcoming season — when many typically head to camp, the NFL and its players quickly negotiated a new deal to avoid a new strike. 

There are few opportunities for professional athletes to flex their power like a CBA session. While fans often want to focus on what is happening on the field, the world behind the scenes can be just as intriguing. The NFL has made it almost a decade without a new strike, and the league recently re-upped its CBA before the risk of a strike settled in. 

Strikes can be a regular part of sports if both sides are not careful. However, the 1987 strike remains one of the most notable examples of how quickly things can go awry.