Posted: 10:28 am Saturday, March 12th, 2011
By Post Staff
The NFL and NFLPA have gone to war.
That’s the only way to explain the events of Friday’s labor negotiations between the two sides. The owners challenged the players to decertify the union, the players called their bluff, the owners instituted a lockout, and both sides flooded my inbox with statements, proposals that were left on the table and explanations why the negotiations fell apart, and how the other side is to blame.
We’ll get to the highlights of all the statements and proposals in a minute. But first, know this:
This is not Doomsday.
The lockout and union decertification in early March does not at all mean that we won’t have football in 2011. The owners even issued a statement declaring as much:
“Our message to the fans is this: We know that you are not interested in any disruption to your enjoyment of the NFL. We know that you want football. You will have football. This will be resolved.”
And that’s not hot air. This will get resolved. Though I am surprised that the two sides did not reach an agreement after extending the deadline a week ago, this is all part of the process we told you would happen back in the fall.
This is all posturing now. Though free agents are left in limbo and offseason OTAs and minicamps are currently in doubt, the real Doomsday isn’t until September. For now, don’t take too much heed into the gloomy statements from the owners, players and even the media. If the two sides don’t have an agreement by the start of the regular season, then you can start to worry about not having football.
But the lockout is here, and here’s what you need to know:
* Players are not allowed to enter their team facilities or have any contact with their coaches. Injured players may continue to work with the team’s medical staff, but at an off-site location.
* No roster moves of any kind are allowed. No free agency, no trades, no draft pick signings.
* However, with the union now decertified (i.e. it no longer exists), free agency may begin in a month or so, after the NFL has exhausted all of its appeals.
* The NFL Draft will go on as planned, April 28-30.
With decertification, the two sides appear headed to court. The union has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the owners with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and eight other players, including incoming rookie Von Miller, as the plaintiffs. Miller was included so that the owners cannot impose wage restrictions on the incoming rookies. The NFL will counter that decertification was a sham, and that the union will re-form once a new CBA is signed (which it will).
The NFLPA has a history of winning in the courts — decertification led to the advent of free agency in 1993 — and figured its best chance of securing a favorable deal is to use the legal system.
OK, now let’s get to the statements and press releases. We will post just the highlights, since the statements sent by both sides were voluminous.
First, the summary of the owners’ proposal:
1. We more than split the economic difference between us, increasing our proposed cap for 2011 significantly and accepting the Union’s proposed cap number for 2014 ($161 million per club).
2. An entry level compensation system based on the Union’s “rookie cap” proposal, rather than the wage scale proposed by the clubs. Under the NFL proposal, players drafted in rounds 2-7 would be paid the same or more than they are paid today. Savings from the first round would be reallocated to veteran players and benefits.
3. A guarantee of up to $1 million of a player’s salary for the contract year after his injury – the first time that the clubs have offered a standard multi-year injury guarantee.
4. Immediate implementation of changes to promote player health and safety by
a. Reducing the off-season program by five weeks, reducing OTAs from 14 to 10, and limiting on-field practice time and contact;
b. Limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; and
c. Increasing number of days off for players.
5. Commit that any change to an 18-game season will be made only by agreement and that the 2011 and 2012 seasons will be played under the current 16-game format.
6. Owner funding of $82 million in 2011-12 to support additional benefits to former players, which would increase retirement benefits for more than 2000 former players by nearly 60 percent.
7. Offer current players the opportunity to remain in the player medical plan for life.
8. Third party arbitration for appeals in the drug and steroid programs.
9. Improvements in the Mackey plan, disability plan, and degree completion bonus program.
10. A per-club cash minimum spend of 90 percent of the salary cap over three seasons.
Now let’s get to the statements.
First, the players’ statement on decertification:
• Because a fair, new Collective Bargaining Agreement was unable to be reached by the expiration of the current contract, the NFLPA, to best serve its members, has renounced its status as a union in order to block the impending lockout by the owners of the NFL.
• By disclaiming interest, the NFLPA no longer represents the players in collective bargaining with the NFL. The collective bargaining process proved futile due to the owners’ desire to implement a lockout, and the players must take new action to fight to keep the 2011 season on track.
• As shown by a March 1 ruling by Judge David Doty, the NFL has been actively strategizing for a lockout of the players for more than two years. The NFL negotiated contracts with TV networks to provide over $4 billion in 2011to the NFL even if the owners shut down the League and no games are played in 2011. A federal judge decided that the purpose of the NFL’s deliberate actions was to “advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.”
• The NFL left the players no choice. The protections afforded by federal anti-trust laws that prohibit illegal corporate behavior now offer the players the best chance to prevent a lockout and protect themselves and their families. Under federal law, the players understand that they must relinquish union affiliation to pursue their anti-trust case.
• Any agreement reached from this point forward with the NFL will be as a result of the court system, not a collective bargaining agreement.
The players also issued a statement about “Issues which prevented a new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement from being reached:”
* The NFL demanded a multi-billion dollar giveback and refused to provide any legitimate financial information to justify it.
* The NFL’s offer on March 7 to give the NFLPA a single sheet of numbers was NOT financial disclosure. The players’ accountants and bankers advised that the “offered” information was meaningless: only two numbers for each year.
* The NFL wanted to turn the clock back on player compensation by four years, moving them back to where they were in 2007.
* The NFL offered no proposal at all for long-term share of revenues.
* NFL demanded 100% of all revenues which went above unrealistically low projections for the first four years.
* The NFL refused to meet the players on significant changes to in-season, off-season or pre-season health and safety rules.
* The NFL kept on the table its hypocritical demand for an 18-game season, despite its public claims to be working toward improving the heath and safety of players.
* The NFL wanted cutbacks in payer workers’ compensation benefits for injured players.
* The NFL sought to limit rookie compensation long after they become veterans — into players’ fourth and fifth years
* THE PLAYERS WANT TO KEEP PLAYING
o The players offered repeatedly to continue working under the existing CBA, but were rejected by the NFL five times.
o Despite publicly admitting no club was losing money, that TV ratings, sponsorship money, etc. were at an all time high, the NFL continued to insist on an 18-percent rollback in the players’ share of revenues and continue to deny the NFLPA’s request for justification.
Phew, that was a lot. Now let’s hear from the NFL and owners.
First, highlights of the owners’ statement on decertification and the lockout:
The fastest way to a fair agreement is for both the union and the clubs to continue the mediation process. Unfortunately, the players’ union notified our office at 4pm ET on Friday that it had “decertified” and walked away from mediation and collective bargaining to initiate the antitrust litigation it has been threatening to file. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, the clubs offered a deal that would have had no adverse financial impact upon veteran players in the early years and would meet the players’ financial demands in the latter years.
The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).
The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs.
At a time when thousands of employees are fighting for their collective bargaining rights, this union has chosen to abandon collective bargaining in favor of a sham ‘decertification’ and antitrust litigation. This litigation maneuver is built on the indisputably false premise that the NFLPA has stopped being a union and will merely delay the process of reaching an agreement.
The NFL clubs remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached. The NFL calls on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table.
The goals of the NFL clubs have been clear from the start. The current CBA is flawed in numerous respects, and the system must be improved to ensure continued growth and innovation and a better future for the NFL, the players, and the fans.
Our message to the fans is this: We know that you are not interested in any disruption to your enjoyment of the NFL. We know that you want football. You will have football. This will be resolved. Our mission is to do so as soon as possible and put in place with the players an improved collective bargaining agreement that builds on our past success and makes the future of football and the NFL even better – for the teams, players, and fans.
Now let’s hear from a few key people on the NFL side:
“As you know, the union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify. We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They’ve decided to pursue another strategy and that is their choice. But we will be prepared to negotiate an agreement and get something done that is fair to the players and fair to the clubs.”
Jeffrey Pash, lead NFL counsel
“On many things, I don’t think we are that far apart. That’s my point. We accepted the union’s position on a wide range of issues in an effort to bridge the gaps, in an effort to get to an agreement. Evidently that was not good enough for whatever reason.”
* We offered to guarantee for the first time in the history of the league, more than one year of injury on player contracts. Apparently not good enough.
* We moved off of our wage scale, and we offered to do a rookie compensation system within the context of a hard rookie cap as the union had proposed which would preserve individual negotiations and maintain the role of agents in the process. Evidently not good enough.
* We offered, in fact we agreed to the union’s request for a cash team minimum for the first time in league history. We agreed to it at their number and their structure. Evidently not good enough.
* We told the union that for 2011 and 2012, we would play within the existing 16-game regular season format, and we committed to them, notwithstanding the rights we have in the current agreement, we would not change to 18 games without their consent. Evidently not good enough.
* At the same time, we agreed to implement wide ranging health and safety changes, reducing the offseason program by five weeks, reducing the practice time in the preseason, reducing the practice time and contract drills during the regular season and expanding the number of days off for players. Evidently not good enough.
* We offered to increase the benefits in a wide range for both current and retired players. Under the proposal we had tendered, retired players who left the league before 1993, would experience an increase in their retirement benefit of close to 60 percent and the union, which says it represents former players, walked away from that today.
* We’re discouraged, we’re frustrated, we’re disappointed, but we are not giving up. We know this will be resolved in the negotiation process and we will be prepared to come back here any time the union is ready to come back here.
Giants owner John Mara
“This obviously is a very disappointing day for all of us. I’ve been here for the better part of two weeks now, and essentially during that two-week period the union’ s position on the core economic issues has not changed one iota.
Their position has quite literally been ‘take it or leave it’ and in effect they have been at the same position since last September. We made an offer to them today to basically split the difference between the two sides. We made that approximately at 12:00 pm and at 4:00 pm they came back and said it was insufficient and they have apparently decided to decertify.
One thing that became painfully apparent to me during this period was that their objective was to go the litigation route. I believe they think it gives them the best leverage. I never really got the feeling in the past weeks that they were serious about negotiating. And it’s unfortunate because that’s not what collective bargaining is all about.
I think eventually we’ll be back at the table, but unfortunately now we will have to go through this process where we are in court.”