Smith says lockout looming in 2011
UPDATED (7:44 p.m.)...
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla.--DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said here Thursday that the sport is on the verge of labor strife.
The league's franchise owners have taken a series of steps that make a lockout of the players in 2011 likely, Smith said, after next season is played without a salary cap.
"On a scale of 1 to 10," Smith said, "it's a 14."
Smith and Kevin Mawae, the Tennessee Titans center who is the president of the players' union, said that the owners have asked the players to accept a pay cut that would reduce the percentage of league revenues going to the players under the salary cap system from about 59 percent to 41 percent.
"I assume the reason we are not closer together [in negotiations] is because I have not said yes to 41 percent," Smith said. "I apologize."
Jeff Pash, the league's chief labor negotiator, denied the union's assertions, saying that the NFL's proposal to the union would not result in the players making less money.
"Our proposal should not result in the players having to take a reduction," Pash said.
The owners and players have had approximately a dozen bargaining sessions as they attempt to negotiate an extension of their collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2010 season. This season is the final one in the deal with a salary cap.
"I truly, honestly believe we'll get a deal done," Mawae said. "But there has to be give and take on both sides, not just taking from one side. It would be such a shame for us not to have this game in 2011 because we can't find common ground."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a Sirius satellite radio interview Thursday that the owners are not aiming to lock out the players.
"You don't make money by shutting down your business," Goodell said, according to a written transcript of the interview provided by Sirius. "So the idea that the owners want to lock out and not play football is absolutely not the case. That's just not good for anybody. But when you're going into these negotiations... both sides are going to be prepared for all the alternatives.... What you have now is the owners' recognition, when they've opted out of this deal almost two years ago, that this deal doesn't work for them--it's clear--and that an uncapped year is preferable over the current labor agreement. So I think what we've got here is that the dynamics have changed so drastically that the owners would, rather than working under the same existing deal, move into the uncapped year and negotiate something that makes sense for us long term."
Under the last extension of the labor deal, approved in 2006, the players receive an average of 59.5 percent of league revenues under the salary cap. The owners have called that deal overly favorable to the players and voted to exercise a reopener clause in it, ending the agreement two years early.
Smith said the owners receive a $1 billion credit under the salary cap system for operating costs and want to receive an additional $1 billion credit in the next deal.
Pash said the union has acknowledged during the negotiations that the costs being cited by the owners are legitimate. Pash said the owners don't want to reduce the percentage of revenues going to the players, but do want to reduce the size of the revenue pool on which the salary cap is based. The additional costs for which the owners would be credited, Pash said, would be used for initiatives designed to increase the sport's revenues and that in turn would result in increased salaries for the players under the salary cap, Pash said.
But Smith again decried the owners' unwillingness to share complete financial information with the union. The union receives information on the teams' revenues under the salary cap system but doesn't know how profitable franchises are, Smith said.
"How do you justify, at the height of this game, a rollback to 41 percent when no one in this room knows what a team makes?" Smith said. "... We audit revenues. How many people here would make an investment decision based on knowing how much money goes into something without knowing how much comes out or what the profit margin is?... We do know revenues. But is there anyone in this room who can tell me what the average team has made over the last five years?... With respect to their comments about bleeding--okay, show me what bleeding is."
Smith said the owners' measures to prepare for a lockout include negotiating extensions of their television contracts with provisions that the league would receive payments even if games aren't played.
"Has any one of the prior deals included $5 billion not to play football?" Smith said. "... When you look at every step that has occurred since 2007, is it more of a preparation to play football or a preparation to not play football?"
Pash said he's "quite certain the networks will make sure they're whole and then some" if any games are missed.
Smith said he thinks "it's virtually impossible" to go back to a salary cap system if next season is played minus a salary cap. He also said he's sensitive to the plight of stadium workers and others in related industries if football isn't played in 2011.
"Our players get locked out, those 140,000 people get locked out, too," Smith said. "... It is not a matter just of our 1,900 players. I am totally concerned about the hurt to that culture."
Smith said the union has proposed in the negotiations that the league devote 2 percent of its profits to a "legacy fund" to benefit former players. Pash said the league has proposed such a fund to be shared by the league and the union, and the union has rejected that proposal.
Smith said the union must "make a change" in its dealings with retired players. One change, he said, will be the union no longer being advised on disability claims by the same law firm that represents the NFL's disability plan.
The Players Association also announced a partnership with the AARP to promote community involvement and volunteerism.
Goodell is to participate in a news conference here Friday.
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