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NFL talks stalling on economic issues

Mark Maske

Ongoing differences between the NFL and the players union on core economic issues have slowed negotiations and made a settlement by Friday's bargaining deadline appear increasingly out of reach, sources throughout the sport said Wednesday.

Only a major change in the dynamics of the talks in coming days could make a settlement this week a significant possibility, the sources said.

A third postponement of the deadline remains possible, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are at a sensitive stage. But some on both sides of the dispute were bracing for the unraveling of the talks.

It would take movement in the bargaining or another late-week development, according to the sources, to avoid the players decertifying the union Friday and seeking a court injunction to try to block a lockout Saturday by the sport's franchise owners.

One source familiar with the deliberations said Wednesday that the league offered the union five years of annual audited NFL profitability data for the 2005 to 2009 seasons. The data that would not have disclosed annual profits or losses for each team, the source said, but would have given the combined profits of the 32 teams. It also would have listed the number of teams that posted better or worse results relative to the previous year.

Under the league's offer, an independent auditor would have been chosen to verify the data. The union rejected the offer, calling the data "insufficient" and refused to look at it, the source said.

According to the source, such data is not available to the teams. The league viewed the offer as a significant concession, one that could begin a negotiation on the topic. Other sources have said the union is seeking full audited financial statements for each of the teams covering a longer span, perhaps as much as 10 years.

The source said the discussions on the matter resumed Wednesday. "It could fall into place quickly or it could fall apart quickly," the source said.

Wednesday afternoon, as he left the bargaining session, Kevin Mawae, the retired center and president of the NFL Players Association, and told reporters the league's offer for financial disclosure was insufficient.

"We've asked for financial transparency and audited financials since May 2009," Mawae said. "And anybody that would report that we've gotten that information and rejected it is simply not telling the truth."

The players' side appeared poised to decertify the union last Thursday when last-minute movement in the negotiations allowed federal mediator George H. Cohen to persuade the league and union to keep talking. They ultimately extended talks until this Friday at 11:59 p.m. But because of court deadlines, the union would have to decertify by late Friday afternoon.

Decertifying the union would enable the players to file antitrust litigation against owners. The players' side also is likely to make a request Friday in the Minneapolis courtroom of U.S. District Judge David S. Doty to block a lockout Saturday. The NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since players went on strike in 1987.

Last week's postponements buoyed hopes around the sport that a settlement this week was possible. But people close to the negotiations cautioned that the league and union still were between $750 million and $800 million per year apart on the central economic issue of how much of the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues would go to the players.

It appears that little or no progress has been made this week on that issue, and the talks have stalled over how the league can meet the union's demand for more financial information about teams. According to a source, the league offered this week to provide data about profits to the union but the union rejected that offer and continues to seek full financial statements for the 32 NFL franchises.

Players and union officials have called for the owners to open their books, saying they need a true picture of the owners' financial problems before they make significant concessions as part of any settlement. The union hired an investment banking firm to aid in the analysis of any additional financial data provided by the league.

Talks resumed Wednesday morning at the downtown Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for the third day of mediated negotiations this week and the 14th overall.

Jeff Pash, the league's lead negotiator, told reporters before Wednesday's meeting began that the league had "made more information available in the course of this negotiation than has ever been made available in decades of collective bargaining," according to the Associated Press. NFL officials have said throughout the negotiations that the union has been given sufficient financial information to strike a deal.

When a salary cap was in effect prior to last season, owners received about $1.3 billion annually for expenses before the players' share was calculated. Players received about 60 percent of the remaining revenues. The league originally proposed that the owners would be credited with an additional $1 billion per year more but the union has rejected that proposal, saying it amounts to a substantial pay cut for players.

By Leonard Bernstein  |  March 9, 2011; 10:56 AM ET  | Category:  Collective bargaining agreement , Union Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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