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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Kevin Mawae has been serving the NFL Players Association almost as long, 13 years, as he played center in the NFL, 16 years. So when his term as NFLPA president ended at the union’s annual meeting late last month, the transition brought forth emotions from Mawae.

“I didn’t think I would be emotional about it, but as I sat in the executive committee meeting earlier in the week, knowing it was my last executive committee meeting that I would preside over, you know, it was a little bittersweet,” Mawae said in an interview while in Marco Island, Fla., where the NFLPA held its annual meeting. “But you know, it is time for new leadership to step up and take the reins and to continue on in the tradition of the great leaders of this organization.”

Domonique Foxworth
, a free agent cornerback who first served the NFLPA as a player rep for the Denver Broncos in 2007, was elected president, succeeding Mawae. In addition, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was re-affirmed for another three-year term.

Both Smith and Foxworth ran unopposed and were elected unanimously.

Mawae, who had been president since 2008, was not eligible to run for the position because he didn’t play in the NFL last year after having announced his retirement. He was first elected to a union leadership position in 1999, as a player rep for the New York Jets. During the interview, Mawae reminisced about his years leading the union, including the 2011 NFL lockout and during the time right after the unexpected death of former NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw in 2008.

Kevin Mawae was first elected to a union leadership position in 1999.
“We have been through some hard times,” Mawae said. “I experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Mawae said the highest points were when Smith was elected executive director and when the players association was able to secure labor peace for 10 years through the new collective-bargaining agreement reached last year.

As for the bad times, Mawae said, “The worst day of my tenure was the day that Gene died.” But the worst period of time, he said, was the run of months between Upshaw’s death in August 2008 until Smith was elected executive director in March 2009. Mawae, as president, and the NFLPA executive committee led the search and oversaw the election in which Smith got the job.

“It was a learning process for me because of the position I was in,” Mawae said. “I had to develop a thick skin and I had to stick to my convictions when people didn’t believe in what I was doing.”

The process featured a field of four finalists for the job: Smith, former NFLPA presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent, and sports attorney David Cornwell, with the new executive director expected to lead the union against the league in the new labor negotiations. It also came with the built-in emotional challenges of finding a successor for Upshaw given both the shock of his unexpected death and the consistency he’d brought to the union as its executive director for 25 years.

Mawae declined to comment in detail about that period, but did say, “Everybody in the sporting world knows how politically charged that entire process was. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I did it with the fullest integrity and I did it the right way.”

DEALINGS FOR LANDMARK, CAA: The Landmark Sports Agency, the NBA player representation firm owned by Rob Pelinka, signed Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant for representation. Durant was formerly represented by NBA agent Aaron Goodwin. … NBA player agent Aaron Mintz has left Priority Sports & Entertainment and joined CAA Sports. It was not clear what clients, if any, may follow him in his move. n

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

NFL player pay will be flat through 2014 even though the league’s massive new broadcast contracts begin that season, according to Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans and chairman of the league’s finance committee.

McNair becomes the first owner to say publicly what has been talked about in industry circles in recent weeks: that the salary cap would not rise in the first four years of the NFL’s new collective-bargaining agreement (2011-14).

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said the salary cap would not rise in the first four years of the league’s new labor deal.
“It is staying pretty flat for several years,” said McNair, speaking as he left last week’s owners meeting. “What happened is the first year [2011] was set, and the negotiation [with the NFL Players Association] was it wouldn’t drop the second year. And actually, those first years were above what it would have been had they just applied the [CBA] percentages. So as they apply the percentages properly, it produced the results you are seeing.”

According to McNair, without the compensation-floor provisions that are part of the CBA for 2012 and 2013, the players’ total pay would have dropped significantly. One team source said it would have been $113 million this year and next for the cap, down from $120.4 million in 2011 and the $120.6 million that resulted for this year.

But that is not found money for the players; their compensation has to be averaged out over time. The CBA calls for a 10-year player compensation average of 47 percent of revenue, before deductions and credits. The players’ take in 2012 after deductions and credits will be around 47.5 percent. The same development is expected in 2013, the last year with a compensation floor. As a result, when the TV deals are kicking in the following season, some of the accounting for essentially the overpayments in 2012 and 2013 begins, said one source.

Those floor provisions are designed to only kick in if the players’ share would have been less than $142.4 million after the calculations set out in the CBA. That is what occurred in 2012 and is widely expected next year.

Also, McNair said, the TV deals do not jump 60 percent right away in 2014 but ramp up methodically.

“It will go up gradually after 2014,” McNair said of TV revenue.

The NFL in December renewed with NBC, Fox and CBS for another nine years, with the total payments averaging slightly more than $3 billion annually, up from $1.9 billion. The headlines that followed those deals were that NFL players had hit the jackpot because under the CBA, they get 55 percent of media revenue. While true, the players’ total take is also capped at no more than 48 percent of all revenue before credits and deductions in any one year.

The NFLPA did not respond for comment.

McNair said there was no quid pro quo between the league and union to raise the cap in 2012 in exchange for the NFLPA agreeing to the salary cap sanctions on the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys that were issued last month. Instead, the union had the designated sum of $142.4 million per club from the floor provisions and chose to adjust teams’ prescribed spending on benefits in order to give teams more cap space. “They determined how much would be for benefits and how much would be for cap,” McNair said. “They can determine it.”

These numbers are certainly less than many players likely were hoping for at this time last year, when the lockout had just begun and CBA negotiations were being held under a cloud of rhetoric and court filings. The NFL proposal the players walked away from 13 months ago that led to the lockout would have guaranteed them $146 million per club in cap and benefits in 2012, $150 million in 2013, and $161 million in 2014. Instead, it appears they will get $142.4 million in each of the first three years of this CBA, and likely a modest increase in 2014.

In 2009, the last year with a cap under the old CBA, the cap was $123 million per club, with about $20 million in per club benefits spending.

NFL player agents have been complaining for years that the NFL Players Association’s so-called junior rule, which restricts agent contact with college football players, was causing more problems than it solved. At the NFLPA’s annual gathering late last month, the union representatives agreed, and the NFLPA board of player reps voted out the rule.

Also at the meeting, players re-elected NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and elected Domonique Foxworth as the union’s new player president, succeeding Kevin Mawae (see story).

Under the junior rule, which was passed in 2007, NFLPA-certified agents were not allowed any contact with college players until they were three years out of high school. The rule was meant to prevent agents from jeopardizing players’ college eligibility and stop players from coming out too early, among other things. What resulted, however, were situations in which marketing agents, financial agents and other individuals commonly known as “runners” could move to get an upper hand on certified agents because none of those individuals were bound by the rule.

“The emergence of the unregulated ‘runners’ forced us to act,” said Foxworth, via email after the conclusion of the meeting. “In many ways, the existence of the rule unintentionally created an environment that encouraged agents to unleash ‘runners’ on campus. The ‘runners’ feared no punishment … because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of our [Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline].”

Executive committee member Charlie Batch made the motion to vote out the rule.
NFLPA executive committee member Charlie Batch made the motion to vote the rule out, Foxworth noted.
Batch said he was always against the rule because he never thought it could be properly enforced. “Financial advisers, the runners, the marketing guys … anyone who was not an [NFLPA-certified] agent, it gave them the upper hand,” Batch said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “Those are the people getting college players in trouble. It’s not necessarily the [NFLPA-certified] agents.”

 NO TIMELINE ON ‘BOUNTY’: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he plans to listen to NFLPA leaders before punishing New Orleans Saints players for participating in a program in which they were paid bounties for their play against opposing players, but it was unclear when exactly that recommendation would be made. That is because the NFLPA has been conducting its own investigation into the matter and facing certain challenges in the process. While the union meeting was ongoing, the NFLPA issued a statement on the investigation saying, “To date, neither the League, nor the Saints, have helped us facilitate interviews with members of management or the coaching staff.”

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We told the union that Saints coaches and other personnel are free to speak to the union if they choose.” But as of the start of the meeting, Saints coaches and personnel had not chosen to cooperate with the union’s investigation.

“Any actions that we take or accept have to be rooted in proven facts,” Foxworth said via email. “I am not sure how we can recommend or accept any punishment that cannot be justified.”

YEAR-ROUND PAY EXAMINED: Player reps discussed, but did not act on, a plan to recommend that players be paid year-round instead of only during the season, as has typically been the case.

Batch said NFLPA leaders have looked at the idea in years past and that the idea this year “picked up some momentum.”

Mawae said the conversations take into consideration whether going to a 52-week payout schedule would be “more fiscally and financially responsible” for the players. The union may revisit the subject this fall.