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Volume 24 No. 181
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Smith Defends Current CBA, Talks NFLPA's Future On HBO's "Real Sports"

The public sniping between the NFL and NFLPA over Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is the "latest episode in an increasingly acrimonious relationship" between the owners and the union, according to HBO's Bryant Gumbel. These are "turbulent times for NFL players, as higher-ups have imposed controversial and unilateral suspensions on players for alleged on-field violations (Deflategate), alleged off-field violations (Elliott) and what would appear to be a de facto suspension for a social protest (Colin Kaepernick).” When combined with the "usual economic complaints," there is a "group of players on edge." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is at the "center of the storm," as he is "charged with representing and defending players against those who sign their paychecks.” Gumbel sat down with Smith, and a portion of their back-and-forth is below:

Smith: “This is a job that pits the interests of the players against the interests of owners in a business that generates nearly $15 billion a year.”
Gumbel: “Are those competitive interests, those two?”
Smith: “Absolutely. And let's not kid ourselves: I mean, the owners are formidable.” 

Smith later noted the owners “tore up” the previous CBA because “they're greedy." Smith: "I mean, what else is there?”
Gumbel: “They felt the players were getting too big a share of the pie.”
Smith: “I believe that's what they said. I think they simply meant they wanted to make more money.”

Smith said of the current CBA, “No deal is perfect. Am I happy about this deal and how this deal worked out? Absolutely.”
Gumbel: “Finish this one for me: ‘The aspect of the collective bargaining agreement of which I'm most proud is...’”
Smith: “All of it. We've seen the owners for the first time in history contributing over $300 million to former player pensions. We've seen our amount of work decrease. We've seen the health and safety of players increase.” 

LOOKING BACK AFTER SIX YEARS: Gumbel noted the players in the current CBA “won concessions like less practice time, increased health care options and spending minimums for teams." However, after six years, the deal is "being questioned because it failed to check the commissioner's absolute power to discipline players and because it reduced the players' overall percentage of NFL revenue.” The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt said, “What they came out with was a lot of health and safety benefits, and they lost on the economic side.” Gumbel noted the "decreased percentage of revenue for the players will result in billions of dollars lost over the duration of the agreement, in great part because at 10 years it is the longest binding labor agreement in the history of American sports.” Brandt: “It's an extraordinary term to have a ten-year agreement. The players should have a way to get out if it's not working for them.”

Gumbel: "Why enter into an agreement that's 10 years long? Doesn't that benefit the owners most?” 
Smith: “I would argue no. We have seen the salary cap in the National Football League grow at a rate that it's never grown before.”
Gumbel: “But not at the rate that the value of the franchises has grown. ... You have to be somewhat hurt, angered, insulted, confused when the general impression is…”
Smith interrupted and said, “No, no.”
Gumbel: "…that they walked all over you.”
Smith: “No. At the end of the day, I certainly respect your question about what objective people would say about the deal. But virtually none of them know the economics of our business.”
Gumbel: “No one questions the gains that the players have made. But the players don't come off nearly as well as the owners financially.”
Smith: “In what system do they do?”
Gumbel said of player discipline in the NFL, “Roger Goodell has the authority to act as judge, jury, arbitrator, enforcer, everything else.”
Smith: “Right, and the owners didn't want to change that. The question to our players became, ‘Do we want to do the deal without a change to that or not?’”
Gumbel: “And the answer was yes.” 
Smith: “Could that be an issue of bargaining going forward? Yes. Is it up to the players and our leadership to decide how much weight to put on it? Absolutely” ("Real Sports," HBO, 8/22).