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NFL Labor Watch: Is There Reason For Optimism As Talks Resume?
Published March 7, 2011
AS THE CLOCK WINDS DOWN...: SI.com's Jim Trotter reports with "only five minutes to go before the union's deadline to decertify last Thursday -- a move that might have obliterated the NFL as we know it today -- a player walked into the negotiating room" that included Goodell, Smith, NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae and declared: "We're done! We're decertifying." Sources indicated that the union "had a member of its legal team on the phone with the clerk of the court in Minneapolis, where U.S. District Judge David Doty presides over the case." Trotter notes "cooler heads ultimately prevailed, and the league agreed to the first of two extensions," but if "anything could be taken from that brief glimpse behind the curtains, it's that the players know the issues and are prepared to stand up to the men who run the country's most powerful sports league." Smith has "refused to participate in any formal negotiating session without at least one player by his side, and he has consistently pushed his player advocates and player reps to keep the membership informed." One player said, "I don't know that guys were itching for a fight, but we have been preparing for this so we're not at all nervous about pulling the trigger or stepping into that world" (SI.com, 3/7). ESPN's Michael Smith said, "The union was very concerned about stall tactics on the part of the owners. They were ready to decertify, so the owners must have come up off their stance to make the union agree to a seven-day extension" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/4).
REASON TO BE OPTIMISTIC: In N.Y., Gary Myers cited sources as saying that the "dynamics for a potential agreement are in place" between the NFL and NFLPA. One source said that "more progress was made last week than in the last two years." If the sides are "close enough Friday but still need more time, the clock will be stopped again." The new CBA is "expected to be a six-year deal" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6). SI.com's Peter King writes, "At some point this week you might see the owners give the players something they've wanted for a long time -- more financial transparency." The players "know they have the edge in litigation now" (SI.com, 3/7). But in N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cited a league source as saying that an extension of the CBA beyond this Friday is "highly unlikely." If an agreement on "how to divvy up $9 billion in revenue, an 18-game season and a rookie wage scale can’t be worked out in the next week, the next step will be chaos -- a lockout by the owners coupled with decertification and an antitrust lawsuit" by the NFLPA (N.Y. POST, 3/5).
BIGGEST ISSUES STILL REMAIN: In DC, Mark Maske reported some NFL insiders "cautioned that significant differences between the two sides remain, especially on the key issue of how to split" the league's $9B in annual revenue. Sources indicated that there was "movement by both sides in Thursday's bargaining," coming after the "negotiating leverage apparently tilted in the players' favor Tuesday when U.S. District Judge David S. Doty ruled in the union's favor in a case involving the league's television contracts." Sources noted that the union "might accept the owners' proposal" to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games "if it can win concessions related to players' health and safety." Sources added that the two sides "probably would agree to a rookie wage scale less restrictive than the one proposed by the league earlier in the bargaining." Maske noted "any settlement also would have to address the league's proposal that players be blood-tested for human growth hormone and the ongoing role of Doty in overseeing the labor deal, which is favored by the union and opposed by the league" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/5). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes the "biggest issue is the NFL's demand that an additional $1 billion in annual revenue be excluded from being split with the players." Sources indicated that there has been "no significant movement on the NFL's demand to keep that extra $1 billion, which is to be used for projects, including stadium construction, that the league believes will help grow the revenue pie and create money the players ultimately will gain" (NEWSDAY, 3/7). ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the league "closed the gap between $4-5 million per team per year, but you extrapolate out those numbers and essentially, you're talking about the two sides now being $775 million apart per year, which really amounts to billions of dollars over the life of that deal" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 3/6).
TALKING TO THE PLAYERS: In a special to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, former NFLer Nate Jackson wrote a lockout "would provide a unique opportunity for players to take back control of their lives." A work stoppage "would be a great opportunity for current players to feel what it will be like without that safety net, when their problems won't be solved for them" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/5). Panthers P Jason Baker, one of the team's alternate player reps, said, "We're going to find out how prepared guys actually are" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/6). Lions DE and player rep Kyle Vanden Bosch: "Now that the deadline's here, I think everybody feels a lot more pressure to get something done. We want to get it done, we want it to be fair for the owners, fair for the players" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/6). Chargers LB Shaun Phillips, one of the team's alternate player reps, said, "I think they're going to get it done now because of the fact they’re communicating" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/7). NFL players appear to be "almost uniformly against" an 18-game regular season. Packers WR Donald Driver: "My goal is to continue to play 16, and I’m hoping that we can get that all taken care of where we don’t have to play 18 games." Packers WR Greg Jennings said, "If we’re getting close and that’s the case, then we have to do what we have to do. But from a player’s standpoint, I’m sure the player reps are making sure if we have to go 18 games then there’s definitely some benefits we get out of it on the players side" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 3/5).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: In New Orleans, John DeShazier wrote, "The consensus is that the owners are falling behind in the public relations race. And while they might be exponentially more concerned with winning the negotiations rather than looking good in the fight, they're not so arrogant as to believe an image hit won't hurt" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/5). The AP's Paul Newberry writes, "If NFL owners aren't careful, they might just force us to sympathize with guys who make more in a year than most will take home in a lifetime" (AP, 3/7). In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt writes, "The owners are that greedy and that selfish because they can be that smug in their knowledge that the paying customer and TV sponsors will come crawling back on hands and knees through their $50-a-slot parking lots to drink in their superfluous game as if it were drops of water in the Sahara" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/7). In Philadelphia, Ashley Fox wrote, "Do not be fooled. This is still about greed" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/5). A CNBC.com poll indicates that fans are siding with the owners. In response to the question, "Who do you side with on the NFL dispute," 48% of more than 4,600 respondents chose owners." Only 36% voted for players, with 16% not sure (CNBC.com, 3/7).
THE SPORTS GUY'S TAKE: In a much-discussed column, ESPN's Bill Simmons offers his take on NFL owners by writing under the header, “Greed Is Good In NFL Labor Talks.” He writes hypothetically about launching a new web business that served as an analogy to NFL ownership. Simmons: “If Charlie Sheen is addicted to winning, then I am addicted to making money. I have lost any and all perspective. … It's about generating more money in Years 5 through 8 than I made in Years 1 through 4. … Would I make a good NFL owner?” (ESPN.com, 3/4). SI's King on Twitter linked to Simmons' article and wrote, "This is not a good effort by Bill Simmons. It's a brilliant one" (TWITTER.com, 3/7).