SBD/July 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 133: Owners Ratify Agreement, Wait For Players' Vote

The NFL approved a new 10-year labor deal Thursday night at about 7:00pm ET that would lift the lockout, but the owners’ euphoria was short lived as it became clear the players had not signed off on the deal. In fact, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen in an e-mail to player reps shortly after the vote suggested strongly the owners could be violating labor law by linking the deal to the NFLPA re-forming as a union. “In addition to depriving the players of the time needed to consider forming a union and making needed changes to the old Agreement, this proposed procedure would in my view also violate federal labor laws,” he wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the SportsBusiness Journal. “Those laws prohibit employers from coercing their employees into forming a union, and could result in any Agreement reached through the procedure being declared null and void" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). The owners voted 31-0 -- the Raiders abstained -- to "OK the labor deal, pending players' approval." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith sent a letter to the 32 player reps less than an hour later that said, "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end-of-deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time." NFL players then "held a conference call and decided not to take a vote, saying they hadn't seen the full proposal approved by owners." Browns WR Joshua Cribbs: "This is a 10-year deal. We can't enter into it lightly. So fans have to understand that until we can completely dissect the CBA, we can't go forward." Some players "claimed that owners snuck some items in the deal," but NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello disputed that notion. Aiello said, "It's really not true. Anything that we put in this press release was discussed and negotiated with the players. And now the next step is for them to approve it" (NFL.com, 7/22). 

WHAT LIES AHEAD? NFLPA leaders said that a "vote among its 32 player representatives appears likely Friday after the group received the 'finishing points' of the agreement NFL owners approved Thursday." The NFLPA did not receive those details "until after a two-hour conference call with player reps came to a conclusion without a vote Thursday night." An NFLPA source said, "All in all, despite the games that were played by the NFL, things look much more optimistic." One of the "sticking points for the NFLPA is that some players want an opt-out clause seven years into the 10-year deal." The clause, which "would include a penalty for the side" that exercised it, is "not necessarily a deal-breaker, but some players continue to recommend it." The players also are "at odds with the league's condition that players recertify as a union before owners will lift the lockout." The NFLPA "wants players to sign cards to authorize the NFLPA to become a union again, just as it did during the decertification process" (ESPN.com, 7/22). NFLPA President Kevin Mawae in a statement Friday morning said player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL. The discussions include a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification. Several NFL team owners and league officials, as well as the NFLPA's Smith, are in Boston to attend Friday's funeral for Myra Kraft, wife of Patriots Owner Robert Kraft. Mawae said, "There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft" (THE DAILY). ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports players "finally got those final details" about the new agreement by the time the conference call finished Thursday night. Mortensen: "The word I got was, ‘We’re analyzing it. It doesn’t look so bad. I’d say we’re a little more optimistic,’ and they expect certainly to proceed" (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/22). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes while it "appeared the sides had agreed on most economic issues for a new collective bargaining agreement, the players still believe there are enough significant issues unresolved to require more bargaining" (NEWSDAY, 7/22). 

YOUR MOVE: In N.Y., Judy Battista reports as of Thursday night, there "were indications that players were unhappy that the owners had approved an agreement they had not yet seen, with a timeline for re-forming the union that they felt rushed them -- in effect putting immense pressure on players to approve the deal or be blamed for its failure." If players "were to reject the deal, it would plunge the NFL into further uncertainty -- and perhaps even more negotiation -- with less than two months until the regular season is scheduled to begin." The owners' plan "was meant to solve a significant problem that emerged Thursday: the sides were at odds over how long it should take for the players union to re-form," a necessity for a CBA to be completed and the lockout to end. Among the "other parts of the proposal the owners approved: all outstanding litigation, including the players’ antitrust suit and the television contracts lawsuit, would be withdrawn, the league said; no settlement payments would be made to any of the 10 named plaintiffs in the antitrust suit; and there would be no payment of the $310 million in benefit money that owners did not have to pay in 2010, but that players demanded at the end of negotiations" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/22). An NFLPA official Thursday night said, "Tell everybody to calm down. (We) haven’t come this far to derail a deal" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/22). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "There’s universal feeling that eventually, the players will approve this proposal. … This is like buying a luxury new car (and) haggling over the floor mats. … They’re going to get this deal done. The question is, when?” ("NFL Live," ESPN, 7/21).

Smith says that he was suprised by NFL's new
supplemental revenue-sharing program
SHARING IS CARING: Smith said that the NFL surprised the players with a "supplemental revenue-sharing program that would spread the wealth more evenly among the 32 teams." While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not provide specifics on the plan, Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy said that it "favored small-market teams." Murphy said that the Packers "would actually be 'payers' into the program because of the team's strong financial standing, but he said it could protect them in the future if big-market teams start to out-earn them and gain a competitive advantage." He contends that the "proposal the players received should not come as a surprise because it was negotiated at the bargaining table" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 7/22). Goodell during his press conference Thursday announcing the owners had approved the CBA said, "In addition to approving the agreement, we also approved a supplemental revenue-sharing system for the next 10 years." Goodell did not indicate whether the system "was negotiated with the players." Smith later said, "As you may have heard, they apparently approved a supplemental revenue sharing proposal. Obviously, we have not been a part of those discussions" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 7/21). SPORTING NEWS' Vinnie Iyer writes, "Beyond the important sticking point of supplemental revenue, the players should find the terms of the owner-proposed CBA agreeable, whether it's today or sometime within the next five days" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/22).

ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: NFL sources "denied the deal had been significantly changed since the basic framework was agreed upon last week, pointing to the fact Commissioner Roger Goodell was in constant phone contact with Smith leading up to the early evening vote by the owners" (N.Y. POST, 7/22). Multiple owners insisted that "both sides had reached an agreement." Upon hearing the NFLPA's reaction to the owners' approval, Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson said, "That's baffling to me. We believe we have handshake agreement with the players." Giants President & CEO John Mara: "We believe we have an agreement. Now it's up to the players" (ESPN.com, 7/22). Colts Owner Jim Irsay: "You can only control what you can control. We’re optimistic and trying to do our part. There’s a lot of moving parts, but everything’s headed in the right direction." Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said that the "talks recently accelerated." Blank: "I don’t know if it was a matter of losing money. I’m sure it was a factor indirectly. Directly, I think there’s a commitment from the league and the players as well to not lose games" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 7/22). Steelers President Art Rooney II: "We did the best we could, and both sides made a lot of compromises. We felt like if we waited any longer, we would put the whole thing in jeopardy as far as camps opening on time and things like that" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 7/22). Richardson said, "(After) we've negotiated so hard and they've received so many things they thought were important, I can't imagine why they would not [ratify it]. We've done what we're supposed to do. We've done our half. It's their choice now." But Panthers P and alternate player rep Jason Baker in a text message said, "We haven't seen a proposal. Once we do we will take the necessary time to make sure the players understand the facts, then make the appropriate decisions at that time" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/22).

FALSE ALARM: In DC, Rich Campbell notes the owners "left Thursday's meeting with a sense of accomplishment." Redskins Owner Dan Snyder said, "I think it's a win-win for both sides. I'm just excited about this season and getting going. ... Both sides come out on top and together" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/22). In Miami, Jeff Darlington notes after the owners ratified the agreement, the league "even distributed a proposed schedule, contingent on the players' decision to ratify and agree" to the new CBA (MIAMI HERALD, 7/22). In Illinois, Bob LeGere notes the "celebratory nature of the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell created a couple of hours of elation until the players refused to be rushed into rubber-stamping the agreement" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 7/22). SI.com's Peter King reports what "struck one owners' source Thursday night as so incredible was the impression that was left in the owners' room three hours earlier -- that this was a deal the union would agree to, despite the fact that there would be hard feelings over issues lost on both sides." There had been "two long conversations between Smith and Goodell, an attempt to build a bridge that would result in a dual vote late in the day." King: "It sounded very much like the good-feeling balloon was bursting Thursday night, and the players ended their conference call without voting on the owners' proposal" (SI.com, 7/22). In N.Y., Myers & Vacchiano write, "These sides have been fighting so hard for every word in the agreement, there was no reason to believe this would end easily" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/22). But in Denver, Mike Klis writes Goodell and the owners should be "flagged for a false start." Klis: "Why did Goodell and the owners not wait before standing before the microphones Thursday in Atlanta?" (DENVER POST, 7/22).

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