Sources: NFL, players $800 million apart on revenue split
The NFL's labor negotiations resumed Monday with the league and the players' union still close to $800 million per year apart on the central economic issue of how to divide the sport's revenue, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.
If there is to be a settlement this week, it probably would have to involve a tradeoff between the two sides on the revenue split under a salary cap system and another key issue: whether a federal court judge in Minneapolis would continue to oversee the sport's labor deal, said sources from throughout the sport, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are at a sensitive stage.
A settlement, if it is to be completed by the new bargaining deadline Friday, also would be likely to include an 18-game regular season that would be accompanied by reductions in offseason workouts and perhaps other concessions to the players, and a version of a rookie wage scale less restrictive than the NFL originally sought, the sources said. The sources with knowledge of the deliberations cautioned that all of the elements of a potential deal still could change as negotiations progress this week.
They also said that because the league and union remain so far apart on the major issue of how to divide revenue, there remains a significant possibility that the two sides will be unable to complete a settlement this week. That could result in a confrontation, with players decertifying the union and filing antitrust litigation against the sport's franchise owners, and the owners locking out the players. The two sides also could extend their deadline again.
Hopes for a settlement were buoyed late last week. Some bargaining progress was made Thursday, according to sources. The league and union, negotiating under the supervision of federal mediator George H. Cohen, agreed to postpone by 24 hours their original bargaining deadline of 11:59 p.m. Thursday, then agreed Friday to a seven-day extension of talks.
That leaves the sport's current labor deal now in place through 11:59 p.m. Friday.
Cohen gave negotiators for the league and union the weekend off. Talks resumed Monday afternoon at the downtown Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Cohen is the agency's director.
"Players will work their butts off--same as past [two] years--to get this done," George Atallah, the union's assistant executive director of external affairs, wrote Monday on Twitter.
Participants in the bargaining meetings have adhered firmly to Cohen's request that the negotiators refrain from public comments about the details of the talks. But sources with knowledge of last week's developments said over the weekend and Monday morning that the optimism for a settlement sparked by last week's postponements resulted mainly because there was some bargaining movement, not because that movement was particularly substantial.
Various sources said there was modest movement on the revenue-split issue. They put the remaining difference at between $750 million and $800 million per year.
Under the current labor deal, owners are credited with about $1.3 billion per year for expenses before the players' portion of the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues is calculated. The league originally sought another $1 billion annual credit for owners before the players take their cut. The union rejected that proposal, saying it would result in a significant pay cut for the players and is not justified by the sport's economic conditions.
That gap was narrowed a bit last week but remains sizable, according to sources. Another major stumbling block this week, the sources said, is that the union continues to seek more information from the league about the teams' finances, while the NFL's negotiators remain reluctant to provide the players with the extensive financial data they seek.
Several sources said that the two sides probably cannot reach a compromise on the division-of-revenue issue unless they couple it with another bargaining issue. That issue, the sources said, could be the continued oversight of the sport's labor situation by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty.
Doty has overseen the labor deal since it was put in place in conjunction with a 1993 settlement of antitrust litigation by the players' side. Last week, Doty ruled that the structure of the league's television contracts violated the settlement agreement and wrote that he would hold a hearing to determine potential damages and other prospective remedies, including an injunction. That could jeopardize the owners' ability to receive their approximately $4 billion in TV rights fees from the networks next season if there is a lockout.
The players' side was prepared last week to seek an injunction in Doty's court that would block a lockout, along with decertifying the union, according to sources.
The owners view the exclusion of Doty from future involvement as a major issue in these negotiations and would be unlikely to agree to any settlement that includes his continued oversight of the collective bargaining agreement, sources said. When the league filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union last month with the National Labor Relations Board, it accused the union of improperly making negotiating proposals contingent upon continuing federal court oversight.
One potential tradeoff this week, multiple sources said, was for the league to essentially buy off the future exclusion of such oversight by making a major concession to the players on the split of revenue.
The union consistently has expressed wariness about the league's proposal to lengthen the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team. But several sources said an 18-game season probably would be included in a settlement along with reductions in offseason workouts, possible increases in roster sizes and more bye weeks during the season. The union rejected a previous proposal by the league for a rookie wage scale, calling it overly restrictive, but sources said a modified version would be a probable element if there is a settlement this week.
The league also has proposed blood-testing for human growth hormone. The union previously expressed reservations about that proposal, and it's not clear at this point how that issue would be resolved.
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