Wednesday, January 26, 2011 2:00 PM
By Rich Tandler
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A few days after declaring to 20 player representatives We are at war! against the NFL owners, NFLPA executive director De Smith sat down with Jill Sorenson at the Comcast SportsNet studios. While Smith was not as combative as he was while trying to fire up the player reps for difficult negotiations to achieve a new collective bargaining agreement with the league owners, he was firm on his talking points.
There are several points of contention in the talks between the owners and the players, who are trying to figure out how to divide about 9 billion in annual revenue. One is that the owners would like to take more credits out of the pool of money that is counted as total revenues. The players receive 60 percent of that revenue. The owners claim that this is unsustainable as some teams are having cash flow problems and some are losing money.
Smith is not totally unsympathetic to teams losing money. After all, if NFL teams are not financially healthy the players could suffer in the long run. But before he recommends that the players approve a deal that would cost them, in the unions estimation, a billion dollars a year, he wants verification of the financial woes that the players are talking about.
I can sum it up pretty simply, Smith said. Any financial information that justifies that teams are making less because of player costs would justify their request for the players to give them less money.
All we have ever said is if there is something wrong with the business of football, if profits are down over the last 10 years, if cash flow has decreased significantly over the past 10 years, if there are economic justifications along those lines that would justify such a massive change in the 50-50 split between owners and players, lets see it.
The NFL owners have so far refused to open their financial records to examination by the NFLPA. Of the 32 NFL teams, 31 are privately owned; only the Green Bay Packers are a public company with their books open for examination. In their most recent report, the Packers showed a profit of 9.8 million in 2009, down from just over 20 million the year before.
The Packers, playing in the NFLs smallest market, may or may not be typical of NFL teams as a whole and that is what Smith is determined to find out. Smith believes that the owners singing of the financial blues just doesnt jibe with some of the news coming out recently. He pointed to a report that the league and ESPN had agreed to an extension of their Monday night football contract that will pay the teams about 2 billion per year for eight to ten years.
Even a player who is getting ready for the playoffs scratches his head and says both of those things cant be true, Smith said. Sometimes we have trouble reconciling how those two things can be true.
Smith explained that he is having difficulties conducting serious negotiations with the leagues representatives because of the specter of uncertainly hanging over the teams financial situation. What we have said is that there shouldnt be confusion in the negotiation room, he said. There shouldnt be a black box of information that we cant see. No one should ever have a curtain up where behind the curtain is all of the real financial information.
Part of the owners offer to the union is to expand the pool of available revenue, thereby minimized the financial loss to the players caused by shrinking their percentage of gross income, by increasing the regular season from 16 games to 18. The plan would reduce the preseason from four games to two.
Smith and many players are very concerned about the health effects both in the short term and in the long term.
Right now, we're at a point where the number of players on injured reserve is the highest in history, said Smith. There are concerns that the wear and tear on the players bodies will increase substantially over the grind of an 18-game season
The long-term effects of injuries, both those that land players in injured reserve and those that they play through, seem to concern Smith the most.
What scares me the most are guys who are younger than me who have trouble pronouncing their words or they lost their train of thought as Im talking to them or the tell you they suffer from migraines or they dont remember things like they used to, Smith said. Im 46 years old. Nobody should be in that world at 39, at 41 and 42.
Smith scoffed at comments made by Bob Batterman, an outside legal counsel hired by the NFL to help deal with the labor situation, saying that the union leadership wants a lockout in order to be able to pursue litigation and perhaps raise the profile of Smith and others.
When there are folks on the other side who get paid to say crazy things, thats fine, they just dont pay me enough to respond to them, Smith said.
While Smith did not characterize a recent meeting that he had recently with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he could offer no words of encouragement to fans who would like to get this labor dispute in the past so that they could focus on free agency, the draft, and playing games. He believes that the owners have been preparing for a lockout since 2007.
I wish that I had better news, he said. Players want to play.