SBD/February 7, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL, Union Meet For First Formal Bargaining Session In Over Two Months

Brees (l), Manning reportedly among players who took part in negotiating session
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said the first face-to-face CBA talks in two months between the league and the NFLPA on Saturday were "beneficial," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Still, it "doesn't appear the two sides got any closer to an agreement" after the two-hour meeting in Dallas ahead of Super Bowl XLV. Goodell said the meeting itself was "a positive." Similarly, NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith described it as a "good meeting" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/7). Smith yesterday added, "I don't think anyone went into the meeting with the idea that we were going to build Rome in one day." In addition to Goodell and the NFL's negotiating team, sources indicated that five owners were present: the Panthers' Jerry Richardson, the Patriots' Robert Kraft, the Chiefs' Clark Hunt, the Giants' John Mara and the Chargers' Dean Spanos. Sources on both sides have noted that Richardson "continues to be perceived as the least flexible and most pessimistic spokesman for the owners." On the other side of the table, sources indicated that Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees were "among the star players who attended" the negotiating session. Brees "has been an activist" as an Exec Committee member, but the "presence of Manning was a surprise and is an early indication that the union is successfully getting the support of its superstar quarterbacks" (ESPN.com, 2/6). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the meeting lasted two hours and "was a re-acquaintance, if you will," as the full negotiating teams from both sides "had not met since before Thanksgiving." La Canfora: "They’ll meet twice this week in smaller groups, committee meetings, trying to hammer away individual issues to ultimately get to the big picture and get this CBA done before March 4" ("NFL Gameday Morning," NFL Network, 2/6). ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted the players want Patriots QB Tom Brady "heavily involved in this." He said, "I think Brady will be involved at some point … to make sure that the union stays a union” (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 2/6).

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Kraft, following Goodell's State of the League address on Friday, said it will be "criminal if a deal isn't done by March 4." Kraft: "This business is very healthy. There is a deal to be done here and it can set the business right for the next 15 years. And if we don't do it, it's criminal. We're healthy as an industry. It's not like we have to do cutbacks to survive." Kraft added, "We can get a deal done in a week. This deal could be done in a week." In N.Y., Gary Myers noted Kraft "has a plan [on] how to get an agreement: Kick all the lawyers out of the room," including the NFLPA's Smith and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash. Kraft: "We got to get the lawyers off of both sides of the table. Have business people at the table. We can grow this business in a way that the players and owners, everyone makes out. ... We will have all failed if we don't find a way to get this deal done" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/5). In N.Y., Steve Serby wrote, "What we need now ... is a lockin. Have the owners and union heads representing the players lock themselves in a room and do not let them leave until there is a new collective bargaining agreement" (N.Y. POST, 2/5). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote both sides "have way too much to lose." They "know they can't kill the golden goose," and they "know their game is too important and too popular to let it vanish for very long" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/5). In Boston, Bob Ryan: "There is too much at stake, and too much money for too many people to lose, if a new deal is not hammered out before the expiration date of the current collective bargaining agreement." Ryan added, "The feeling is that of Europe in the beginning of 1914. There are serious tensions between owners and those who represent the players, and Bad Stuff is coming" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/5).

PREPARING FOR THE WORST? ESPN.com's Adam Schefter wrote NFL owners "have been preparing for the potential protracted labor battle with some super game planning." Team sources indicated that "under the terms of the CBA that govern uncapped years, each of the NFL's 32 teams was not required to fund player benefits such as 401K plans that are not in effect in uncapped years, saving each team $10 million that the NFL is holding on to." The $320M "could be used to help offset some of the costs during the early stages of a lockout." The league "continued funding pension, disability, 88 plan, post-retirement medical care and other benefits, and has committed to fund all benefits for retirees even after the CBA expires and even if there is a lockout." But Schefter noted it "stopped funding the specific player benefits, another step in the preparation for what could be a lengthy labor standoff in which some NFL employees will likely see pay cuts and furloughs" (ESPN.com, 2/6). In N.Y., Ken Belson noted if the owners "shut their doors, players will not receive hundreds of millions of dollars in salary advances and signing and roster bonuses, and free agents, rookies and other players will not be able to sign new contracts." Players "will also have to start paying for their own health care." Since Smith became NFLPA Exec Dir in March '09, he "has urged his union members to set aside extra money in case of a lockout." The NFLPA in '09 "increased its annual dues to $15,000, from $10,000, and put the money into a Lockout Fund." Accountant Steven Piascik, who prepares tax returns for pro athletes, said, "Are the players ready for a lockout? Absolutely not. Hopefully, a lockout won't be bad. But we are advising our athletes to maintain a strict budget" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6).

DRAFT DODGERS? In DC, Mark Maske cited an NFL player agent as saying that there have been "discussions between agents and union representatives about the possibility of draft-eligible players boycotting the scouting combine later this month in Indianapolis and refusing to attend the draft in April." The draft "will take place even if there is a lockout because the current labor deal contains a provision for it to be held." However, the agent said that he "believes it's unlikely that players will boycott the combine because those players are yet to be drafted and technically are not members of the union, and potentially could hurt their own draft status." The scouting combine "takes place before the expiration of the current labor deal" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/4). In West Palm Beach, Dave George wrote, "Maybe if April's NFL Draft were in danger of being canceled fans would be all wound up about the whole thing. ... The draft, however, is the only off-season activity that's guaranteed to go on even if there's no new CBA. ... That's enough to keep fans happy for quite a while because the draft stirs an insane amount of interest" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/5). In New Orleans, Peter Finney: "What will the fans say? They’ll say from very little to next to nothing. All the fans are worried about is this: Who do we draft? What free agents do we go after?” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 2/6).
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