SBD/July 19, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 130: Players Pushing For New Non-Health Care Benefits

NFL and NFLPA execs, attorneys and federal mediator Arthur Boylan were scheduled to meet again this morning at 9:00am ET in Manhattan to try to iron out final details of an umbrella deal that would end the more than four-month-old lockout. But several significant issues remain, including the relatively new demand by players that the league pay them $320M for the non-health care benefits that teams did not have to pay last year under the now-expired CBA. “The clubs complied with the terms of the CBA for the uncapped year,” a league source said. Late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw “wanted more money available for salaries in an uncapped year so he took it out of benefits and relieved the clubs of certain benefit obligations they had to pay during capped years. Those were the terms of the agreement in which the uncapped year was designed to [get] both sides to agree on an extension or new CBA before getting to the uncapped year (the negative for the owners was free agency for players but no salary cap). That’s what the NFLPA negotiated for the uncapped year.” The NFLPA did not respond to a request for comment. A source close to the NFLPA denied league sources who contended players’ outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler was pushing the plan. This source said the idea had been on the table for months. A source close to the league responded the issue might have been raised months ago, but it was only after the league thought the core economic issues had been solved late last week did player lawyers suddenly push it. The sides also have to find a way to unwind the antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 players against the league, resolve a league demand that worker compensation claims only be filed in the home state of a player’s team, and resolve remaining legal cases between the parties (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

GLOBAL SOLUTION
: ESPN's Adam Schefter cited sources as saying that the two sides are "amenable to rolling the remaining issues that are most problematic -- the settlement of the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit and the television 'lockout insurance' damages case -- into a global settlement." Such a settlement "would mean that those two cases, along with the retired players' lawsuit and all other legal issues, would be dropped if the players ratify" a new CBA, "which is expected to cover the next 10 seasons." It "would be the quickest way to get the lockout lifted," and if the remaining legal issues "are not rolled into a global settlement, it would be a very bad sign, potentially even stopping progress." Meanwhile, a source said that the NFL and the NFLPA have "agreed to increase benefits for retired players by nearly $1 billion over the life of the agreement." The source added that the agreement "includes creating a 'legacy fund' that will increase by $620 million over the 10-year span." But if retired players "reject the new provisions, it has the potential to scuttle the current agreement" (ESPN.com, 7/18). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell notes the group of NFL retirees with a "pending lawsuit against the league will be back in the room today" for the settlement talks. Attorney Michael Hausfeld, who is representing the class of retirees, said that he was "hopeful the invitation to today's meeting with league and player attorneys is a sign that retired players' interests will be significantly addressed in a new labor deal" (USA TODAY, 7/19).

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole cited sources as saying that the agents for Brady v. NFL plaintiffs WR Vincent Jackson and G Logan Mankins "have requested that their players either become unrestricted free agents when the lockout is over or that they receive $10 million each as part of the settlement." Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees also "could push for compensation," but a source said that "each is far less likely to create problems." Jackson, Mankins and Manning were "designated 'franchise' players in February, and Brees could be hit with the tag after this season." An NFL source said that none of the other six plaintiffs "are in the same position to demand drastic compensation for damages" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/18). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports this is a situation "where they’re going back and forth,” and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith “began reaching out to the plaintiffs in this case over the weekend." However a source said that it is "hard to imagine a player like Vincent Jackson holding up the 1,900 other players, the 32 teams around the league and millions of fans from having football.” ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reports over the last 48 hours, there are "side deals taking place to make sure that these plaintiffs are happy so that they can sign off on the case” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/19).

ENOUGH TO HOLD UP SETTLEMENT? Sources close to the league are blaming Kessler and agent Tom Condon, who reps Manning and Brees for the impasse. A source said, "Condon through Kessler does not want the franchise tag applied to his clients Manning and Brees and may hold up the settlement if it is. Manning and Brees should come out now and support a new CBA if they want to get this done.” Kessler, who is in the meetings now, could not be reached for comment, and declined all comment this morning about the talks as he walked into them. Condon did not immediately respond for comment. There is precedent for individual plaintiffs receiving special consideration as a part of a settlement. In the Reggie White settlement of '93, which led to the now expired CBA, the plaintiffs were exempt from the franchise tag (Kaplan). Sources said that the "limit of franchise tags on the plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust lawsuit could be the anchor to a settlement in that case" (ESPN.com, 7/19). 

OTHER OBSTACLES STILL PREVELANT: YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver cites sources as saying that there are "seven potential pitfalls that must be overcome" including lost benefits, lockout insurance damages, judicial oversight, workers' compensation, right of first refusal rules, settling Brady v. NFL and union recertification. Silver: "Anyone operating under the assumption that this is a done deal should be flagged for premature celebration" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/19). Meanwhile, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports the NFLPA Exec Committee “will sit here waiting" for the new CBA draft “that has been hammered out among the lawyers." Mortensen: "That’s a document they want to review and then discuss and even debate. ... I’m told that there’s some members of that Executive Committee who have some real questions about it. I’m not calling them dissenters, but they’re going to challenge some of these” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/19). CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said, "They’re too close to ruin this, unless for some reason this goes to the owners meeting on Thursday and there are enough owners who want to throw in revenue-sharing as an amendment to all of it. In which case it could all blow up” ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 7/18).

GOLD RUSH
: In L.A., Sam Farmer notes owners "have promised all along that they know how to grow the revenue pie and intend to do so under a new agreement." Farmer: "One of the most obvious ways to do that is by moving a franchise that is struggling financially into the nation's second-largest market, providing L.A. has the right stadium deal in place. As soon as the labor fight is history, the NFL can turn its attention back to L.A. and help work out a deal." Even if players "no longer provide owners with credits against the salary cap for investing in new stadiums, an exception could be made for potential California stadium projects in L.A., the Bay Area and San Diego" (L.A. TIMES, 7/19).
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