Report: Players wanted to return to the negotiating table but owners declined

The NFL logo is seen on a trailer parked near the New Meadowlands Stadium where the New York Jets and New York Giants NFL football teams play home games in East Rutherford, New Jersey, March 14, 2011. The NFL has officially announced a lockout of players by team owners following the move by the players’ union to dissolve themselves and pursue court action against the league. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL BUSINESS)

According to ESPN’s John Clayton in his latest Q&A, the players wanted to return to the negotiating table on March 28, but the owners declined. Apparently the owners refuse to negotiate unless the players recertifiy as a union.

Q: I am a corporate attorney, and I have seen (and been part of) settlement negotiations while litigation is taking its course. Why can’t one or more attorneys for players (if not for the NFLPA, then for some of the named litigants) negotiate with the attorneys for the owners right now? At least in California, settlement negotiations cannot be used in trial, so I see no reason why negotiations could not be going on right now. In any event, isn’t the real problem the refusal of the owners to provide full financial information?

Ed in Aladena, Calif.

A: You are 100 percent correct. Lawyers for the owners refuse to meet with the settlement attorneys for the players unless the trade association identifies itself as a union, which the players won’t do at this time. The players, according to multiple sources, planned to meet with the owners March 28 and spend the week settling this mess. All that had to be done was have a short document go to federal judge Susan Nelson’s court saying that the NFLPA’s executive board would serve as advisors. The NFL’s answer was no. This will be the only way a deal can be reached. Like you, we all wish both sides would go to the bargaining table instead of the courts.

As a fan, it’s frustrating to hear that one side was ready to head back to the bargaining table and the other refused. The quickest way to a resolution is at the negotiating table – not in the courts.

But the owners must believe they have the leg up now that union-friendly Judge David S. Doty is not overseeing the players’ injunction hearing on April 6. As points out, if Judge Susan Nelson fails to grant the injunction, then the leverage swings heavily in the owners’ favor. So why would they return to the bargaining tables now? So that they can put an end to this charade and the fans can have a season next year? That’s not what the owners want. They want more money (and in the process, the players to have less of it), which is one of the many reasons why the NFL is currently in this mess.

The momentum has shifted several times over the past couple of months and it appears as though each side is waiting for the other to eventual crumble. Meanwhile, the fans continue to wait.

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Were the owners more flexible in negotiations than players?

NFL Executive Vice-President and General Counsel Jeff Pash (C) talks to reporters about negotiations with players association representatives as they seek an agreement as a deadline looms for a player lockout, in Washington, March 4, 2011. The NFL and the players’ union agreed to extend talks on a new collective agreement for another week, the League-owned NFL Network reported Friday. The chief sticking point in the talks is how to distribute the league’s $9 billion in annual revenues. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL BUSINESS)

Jim Trotter of wrote a great piece about the breakdown of the NFL labor talks and in the article, he writes that the owners felt they were more flexible in the negotiations than the players were.

Owners also argue they were more flexible in the negotiations than the players. On Friday the two sides were $640 million apart on the 2011 salary cap number; the NFL offered to split the difference. The union, however, would not move from its best offer of an additional $137.5 million a year for four years without a detailed accounting of each team’s books, a demand it had requested as early as May 2009. Says Pash, “In November ’09 we asked for an 18 percent rollback, and we didn’t get that either. Demands that you make before your first-ever face-to-face bargaining session might not be where you end up two years later.”

Ultimately, players contend that the owners initiated the standoff, so the burden of proof rests with them. “Not once have the players asked for more money during this negotiation,” Brees said on Friday. “Past players sacrificed a great deal to give us what we have now, and we will not lay down for a second to give that up.”

It may come down to a court to decide if they have to.

Because of the media blackout, there’s not a whole lot of information available on this labor dispute. Of course the owners are going to feel like they were more flexible, as I’m sure the players felt like they were more than fair with their demands. We the fans and media can only go off of what certain people tell us because we weren’t in the meeting rooms.

That said, there’s a real possibility that the union overplayed its hand here. They knew they had an advantage in talks once Judge David Doty ruled that the owners couldn’t use the $4 billion from renegotiated TV contracts to fund their lockout. The players then figured that if they decertified and their case went in front of a judge, they always had Doty (who has ruled often ruled in the players’ favor when it comes to previous NFL cases) in their back pocket.

Thus, when the owners came to the table with a last-second proposal on Friday before the lockout, the players wouldn’t budge on their offer. But they may have screwed themselves because Judge Susan Nelson will oversee their case, not Doty. So while they still could wind up winning big, they may have bypassed a decent offer and a way to end this charade before the CBA expired last week. Instead, they decided to go to court and now here we are.

When the dust finally settles on this issue, I wonder which side will have more regret: the owners for not opening their books (even though they did agree to show the players five years worth of aggregated league wide profitability information), or the players for not taking that last-second proposal last Friday.

Turn of events? Judge Nelson will oversee players’ case against NFL, not Judge Doty.

Domonique Foxworth (L) of the Baltimore Ravens and Kevin Mawai (C), former player for the Tennessee Titans and current NFL Players Association president, depart with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (2nd R) after a day of negotiations with football team owners as they seek an agreement as a deadline looms for a player lockout, in Washington, March 3, 2011. Man at far right is unidentified. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS)

Since the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement last Friday, I’ve become awfully bitter when it comes to the NFL and NFLPA. So when I read, “Judge Nelson and not Judge Doty will be overseeing the Brady v. NFL case,” I can’t help but laugh.

The only reason the players went through Minnesota to file their claim was because it was Judge David S. Doty’s district. As the media has made everyone aware of, Judge Doty has been player-friendly when it comes to cases against the league. So when the players decertified last Friday, they thought they would have an advantage in court because Doty would be overseeing their case. But now that Judge Susan Richard Nelson is in charge, things may have shifted.

In other words, the players may not have an advantage now.

When the dust settles on this labor dispute, here’s hoping that neither side wins. Obviously I want there to be football next fall, but it would be nice if the greedy players and the even greedier owners didn’t walk away feeling like they won anything. Seeing as how they don’t care about the fans, I think that’s fair. The NFL spent a decade building its popularity and taking the fans’ money at every turn, now it’s become a victim of its own success. The players and owners can’t figure out a way to share $9 billion and the fans are left hanging because of it. So let both sides lose something in this war.

The owners thought they had a huge trump card when it came to the TV revenue. Then Judge Doty ruled that they couldn’t use that money to financially support a lockout and the owners took one to the gut. Now the players, who thought they had a trump card of their own in Judge Doty when they decided to reject the owners’ proposal last Friday and decertify, just took one on the chin themselves by getting Judge Nelson to oversee their case.

Thus far, neither side is winning and I love it.

Marvez: Starcaps case a blow to NFL drug policy

Now that Charles Grant, Will Smith, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams all escaped suspensions, Alex Marvez of FOX writes that the Starcaps case is a blow to the integrity of the NFL drug policy.

Not even the thousands of NFL steroid tests administered each year are enough to catch all the cheaters. For all we know, some players are taking “exotic” boosters either undetectable or unknown through testing. The steroid nicknamed “The Clear” was one of those once-untraceable designer drugs that surfaced earlier this decade in baseball and football.

Human growth hormone use is an even bigger problem. The only reliable testing method involves the drawing of blood, which the NFLPA will not allow. A player hell-bent on using HGH for a physical edge despite potential long-term health effects can get away with it. You’d be naïve to think that isn’t happening.

That’s the ultimate goal the NFL and NFLPA should share — catching the cheaters who threaten to undermine the game’s credibility like Barry Bonds and Co. did in Major League Baseball. Protecting athletes who want a level playing field is even more important. The NFLPA agreed to drug testing in the late 1980s after late union chief Gene Upshaw was approached by players who didn’t want to take the health risks inherent with steroid use to compete against their peers.

Here’s hoping the NFL and NFLPA can compromise and work through their differences to achieve those ends. That would be the only positive result to come out of the Starcaps spectacle that has taken some of the shine off a once-respected NFL drug testing program.

As the article suggests, if the NFL and NFLPA can’t work together, then the league will never be able to have a full chokehold on its drug testing policy. The NFLPA’s sole purpose is to protect the interest of the players. But in doing that, it sometimes impedes the progress the league is trying to make in keep performance-enhancing drugs out of the game.

As the NFL heads for an un-capped 2010 season, it’s clear that the league and the NFLPA can’t get on the same page in regards to big issues like contracts and drugs. It’s too bad, because it’s the fans who suffer the most – not the players, owners or coaches.

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