NFL union leader says lockout likely in 2011

Feb. 4, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Updated Feb. 3, 2010 at 8:04 p.m.

By Randy Covitz

McClatchy Newspapers


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, gave dire odds Thursday on the chances the NFL owners will lock out the players in 2011.

"On a scale of 1 to 10," Smith said, with 10 being the likelihood of a lockout, "it's a 14."

The collective-bargaining agreement between the players' association and the owners expires in March 2011. The owners opted out of the current agreement two years early, and as part of that action, the league will play the 2010 season without a salary cap.

The owners, citing increased costs, particularly in the construction and maintenance of new stadiums, want to reduce the players' 60 percent of total revenue they currently receive. But the union is steadfast against it, claiming the league, awash in money, is asking the players to take an 18-percent pay cut.

Smith, during the NFLPA's annual Super Bowl news conference, pointed to two indicators that the league is preparing for a lockout: The league hired as its lead negotiator Bob Batterman, the attorney who represented the NHL during its lockout in 2007; and the league negotiated network television deals that guarantee the NFL $5 billion a year even if games are not played.

Smith, who replaced the late Gene Upshaw as NFLPA executive director, said NFL team values have increased almost 500 percent in the last 15 years, the league generated $8 billion in revenues last season, and the clubs, according to Forbes magazine, earned average profits of $31 million in 2008. But the league is proposing a pay cut "that would put us back to 1992 or 1993" salaries.

"When you look at every step that has occurred, is it more of a preparation to play football, or more of a preparation to not play football," Smith said. "On the day where someone can sit down with us as players and partners, and say to us, 'Our profit margin has decreased to X.' Well, that's how you get a deal done."

The league has not opened its teams' books to the union, and the only team whose financials are known are the publicly owned Green Bay Packers. Smith said in 2008, a season in which Brett Favre had left the club, and the team had a losing record, the Packers still showed a $20 million profit.

"Does that sound like a business model where the people who play this game, who risk everything without a guaranteed contract should give up 18 percent?" Smith said.

Smith also said before the players receive 60 percent of total revenue, $1 billion is taken off the top and goes directly to management and is used for stadium renovations, stadium upkeep and goes toward the G-3 program that helps finance new stadiums. That essentially drops the players' share to 52 percent of all revenues.

"On top of that $1 billion taken off the top," Smith said, "they want to (take) another $1 billion."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will give his views on the labor situation today during his annual State of the League news conference. However, he said in an interview with Sirius Radio that the league does not want a lockout.

"You don't make money by shutting down your business," Goodell said. "So the idea that the owners want to lock out and not play football is absolutely not the case. But when you're going into these negotiations, both sides are going to be prepared for all the alternatives.

"Since this agreement was reached in 2006, the NFL generated additional, incremental dollars of $3.6 billion, and $2.6 billion of that went to the players. So that leaves $1 billion for the owners and their costs of operations. Unfortunately those costs exceeded that billion and, actually, the owners are $200 million worse off. That's a demonstration that the model is not working and it's got to get fixed. That's where the owners are."

NFLPA president Kevin Mawae of the New York Jets said the union is encouraging the players to save 25 percent of their salaries and prepare for a lockout. Union dues were increased starting in 2009, and that money will be rebated in the event of a lockout.

Smith, surrounded by 12 former players, including Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, said the union also will propose that each team takes 2 percent of its annual profits and give it to a fund for retired players.


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