SBD/February 4, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

De Smith Says Union Has "Fundamental Disagreements" With NFL Owners

Smith responds to questions during an "often-combative" Q&A session
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith Thursday, in an "often-combative question-and-answer session," said that the union "had 'fundamental disagreements' with the league and that a proposal that players should make $1 billion in concessions made no sense while revenues were at record highs," according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Smith: "The business of football is probably the best economic business model in the country because that $9 billion was generated during the worst recession in our lives. At the height of the economic viability and success of the league, you're now asking the players to give back $1 billion for the next seven years. ... There has not been any indication that any team has lost a dime. No one has said that profits are down, no one has said that we are on the verge of losing money, no one has said we are in economic duress." Belson writes Smith's 30-minute news conference was "in stark contrast to the more conciliatory comments on Wednesday" by NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash. Smith several times said that the players "want to reach a deal before" the March 4 deadline to avoid a potential lockout. But he added that he "did not have grand hopes for the meeting on Saturday, the first full-fledged negotiations between the two sides since Thanksgiving" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/4). Smith said that 40 discussions "have taken place with league management" since he took office in '09. NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler indicated that the owners to date "have not made a major concession while insisting on a salary rollback that would reduce the players percentage to what it was when former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw was seeking '55 percent of the gross' in the mid-1970s" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/4).

: In DC, Mark Maske reported Smith "left open the possibility Thursday that the players will decertify the union in a bid to prevent a lockout by the sport's franchise owners beginning next month." Smith: "In the past when our union had to decertify to achieve free agency, that's what it did. When the union decertified, historically it was a decision based upon protecting the interests of players of tomorrow, players of the day and players that played this game. So we will always take the steps that we need to protect our players and protect our interests." Maske noted experts have said that decertification of the union by the players "potentially could lead the owners to abandon plans for a lockout." Should owners proceed with a lockout "under those circumstances, it could be cited in any antitrust litigation by the players." However, it is "not certain ... how the owners would react to decertification." Smith "called the disagreements between the union and the owners over the economics of the sport 'fundamental.'" He said that it "would be 'irresponsible' for the owners to lock out the players with the league financially healthy" (, 2/3).

FIGHT BREWING OVER FRANCHISE TAGS: In Boston, Greg Bedard reported the NFLPA, "in response to the league's decision to allow teams to use franchise and transition tags starting Feb. 10 for the 2011 season," sent out a memo Thursday "telling all agents that they would file court challenges on behalf of any players who want to challenge the tag." NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen: "There's no franchise tag without a new CBA, it's as simple as that. We have a lot of things in the agreement that say 'in each year covered by this agreement.' ... But when the agreement ends, those rights don't survive. It's very simple. This isn't rocket science." But NFL Management Council Senior VP/Labor Relations Peter Ruocco said, "The CBA hasn't expired and the CBA has the right to franchise players so we are telling clubs that you have the right to franchise players and then depending on what the new agreement says, that will take into account" (, 2/3). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote if the union is "successful at gaining unrestricted free agency -- through arbitration or the courts" -- for a player like Colts QB Peyton Manning, that "could send shockwaves through the NFL" (, 2/3).

STICKING TO THE MESSAGE: NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said at the end of the union's press conference Thursday, "It's unfortunate that we have a $9 billion business with a bunch of owners that don't understand that it's just about the business for them, and it's not. It's about the fans that come together as a community. … They don't come to watch a shield. They don't come to watch a logo. They come to watch their stars perform so that they can be happy and draw together as a community. That’s what it’s about. All we ask for is financial transparency and justification and let us play." Following Mawae's statement, NFL Network’s Rich Eisen rhetorically asked whether Mawae was inferring that "owners don’t care about the fans.” Eisen: “That’s some of the rhetoric that will probably stick in the craw of the management side for sure. Maybe that was the intent.” National Football Post President Andrew Brandt said, "That was very choreographed. After De goes through his business approach, bring the player up and make the impassioned speech to the fans” (NFL Network, 2/3).

ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL: Mawae yesterday responded to comments Jets CB Antonio Cromartie made last month in which he "ripped the union's leadership." Mawae responded by saying, "I don't recall him being at one CBA bargaining session or him on one conference call with the player reps." Mawae added that he is "not worried about players breaking rank with the union and said Cromartie is entitled to his opinion." Mawae: "He might not understand all the issues. I understand everybody can take different points of view, but at the end of the day he's one of us" (Paul Schwartz, N.Y. POST, 2/4). Mawae: "Am I worried that more players will come out like that? Look, I represent 1,900 active players and thousands of former players. I have four brothers, we fight all the time, but at the end of the day, we're still family. With Cromartie, it's the same way" (NEWSDAY, 2/4).

: In Chicago, David Haugh writes of Smith's news conference Thursday, "The more the skilled former trial lawyer talked, the more I wondered if Smith wanted to find a compromise position as badly as he wanted to be right. If Smith sought to turn down the heat on the rhetoric with the March 4 expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement looming, then he should have left his matches at home" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/4). In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch writes, "If you strictly use Pash's and Smith's news conferences as a barometer, you'd walk away wondering whether the two sides will be able to get a new deal done by March 3, 2015, let alone 4 weeks from now." National Football Post's Andrew Brandt "thinks the most optimistic news of this week was the fact Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met briefly in New York on Monday." Brandt: "Even if they talked about the weather and their kids, it's progress. Because those two have to have a relationship" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/4).
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