Players to Roger Goodell: “Your statements are false.”

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (R) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch (C) arrive for labor negotiations between NFL players and owners with federal mediation in Washington on March 3, 2011. The current collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight tonight and a lockout is possible but not definite if none is reached. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg.

The bickering between the players and the NFL just got turned up another notch.

Earlier this week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to every player encouraging them to return to the bargaining table. In response, the players sent out their own letter on Saturday that basically told Goodell that they’re not buying what he’s selling.

Here are some of the highlights from the players’ letter (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle):

We start by reminding you that we were there at the negotiations and know the truth about what happened, which ultimately led the players to renounce the NFLPA’s status as the collective bargaining representative of NFL players. The players took this step only as a last resort, and only after two years of trying to reach a reasonable collective bargaining agreement and three weeks of mediation with George Cohen of FMCS. At all times during the mediation session we had representatives at the table with the authority to make a deal. The NFL representatives at the mediation did not, and the owners were mostly absent.

The NFLPA did all it could to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement and made numerous proposals to address the concerns raised by the owners. In response, the owners never justified their demands for a massive giveback which would have resulted in the worst economic deal for players in major league pro sports.

That is why we were very troubled to see your letter, and repeated press reports by yourself, Jeff Pash, and the owners, which claim that the owners met the players halfway in negotiations, and that the owners offered a fair deal to the players.

Your statements are false.

One point that that players keep making (and it’s a strong one) is that most of the owners weren’t involved in the talks. As Mike Vrabel of the Chiefs has pointed out, Roger Goodell can’t make a deal. Jeff Pash can’t make a deal. Jerry Jones can make a deal. Jerry Richardson can make a deal. The owners can make a deal.

But if the owners aren’t even involved in the negotiations, and I mean sitting at the tables in the flesh, then how is a deal going to get made? I don’t agree with all of the moves that the players have made to this point but that’s one thing I do side with them on. They don’t need Roger Goodell sending them letters telling them to get back to the negotiating table if the owners aren’t even going to be there. No wonder most of them laughed Goodell’s letter off.

That said, the owners claim that their proposal last Friday was in effort to get the players to agree to another extension and to keep the lines of communication open. But according to the NFL, the players never offered a counter-proposal so in my opinion, it sounds like the NFLPA had already made up its mind that it wanted to go to litigation. It sure seems like DeMaurice Smith cares more about going to court than being one of the heroes (and I use that term very, very, VERY loosely) that negotiates a deal so that we can have a season next year.

For the record, I think Goodell’s heart is in the right place. He doesn’t want the courts to decide the fate of the league: he wants the players and owners to. But again, it’s his job to get both sides to the table. He needs to get all of the decision-makers in one room to hash this thing out or else this situation will only get uglier than it already is.

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