Is NFL Lockout Approaching?

Rookie wage cap, blood testing, benefit cuts, a nearly 20 percent "giveback" and a work stoppage were prominent in a recent communication that NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith sent to player representatives in describing a bleak labor negotiation picture.

In an e-mail obtained last week by ESPN, Smith wrote to player reps: "We proposed to address the rookie issue with a 'Proven Performance' plan that would redirect $200 million from rookie cost to veterans, cap rookies to three-year contracts so 'busts' were out of the league quickly, and provided incentives to lowest spending teams to remain competitive by forcing money back to the vets on those teams."

Union sources believe the likelihood of a rookie hard cap being in place by 2011 is remote because, as Smith inferred again, management is preparing for a lockout that season.

However, a management source said that owners are considering making a proposal that would make a rookie cap effective immediately, in April, as an addendum to the current labor agreement, even if the two sides fail to reach agreement on an extension. The source said management would like to discuss redistributing the $200 million in rookie savings in 2010 to endow a fund for NFL retired players.

The two sides are scheduled to have an eighth negotiating session on Tuesday.

Sources also said that the union has calculated that owners spent just 51 percent of revenues on player costs in 2009, in spite of the belief that they are mandated to spend almost 60 percent. One union source said the 60 percent player costs were a "best-case" assumption that teams would spend almost equally under the salary cap.

Consequently, the union believes a management proposal for an 18 percent "give-back" in the first year of a new agreement in the form of almost $2.5 billion credits is unnecessary.

On the blood testing issue, sources say it would pertain primarily to performance-enhancing drugs. A management source said that the league's position on blood testing -- via a "pin prick to the finger" -- would be pushed only if scientific labs create a successful test for human growth hormone. Currently, there is no such proven test.

In his e-mail to player reps, Smith said: "As you will see, we made two significant offers to the NFL to demonstrate a willingness to negotiate. First, as you know, we proposed that they provide detailed profit [or lack thereof] information justifying their request for nearly a 20 percent give-back by the players. We signed the financial confidentiality agreement and received a single sheet of paper. It contained no profit/loss, cash flow, profit margin, team valuation, team salary or breakdown of 'where the money goes.'

"In the absence of any supporting financial information, we also offered to discussing the extension of the current deal for six years. We noted that player costs have remained relatively stable."

Smith went on to say: "In addition to what I have shared with you earlier, the NFL wants to: eliminate the retirement plan for current players and replace it with a defined contribution plan, make current players pay for any deficiency in the retirement plan as it affects former players [and relieve them of this obligation], and include blood tests for players.

"The NFL responded that 'even if' they gave us profit information, they believed that we would not agree to their demands. They indicated that they were ready for an uncapped year and ready for any work stoppage. There has been no formal proposal for adding extra games.

"I will keep our scheduled next dates for CBA meetings. We will continue to negotiate. However, the message I first brought you nearly a year ago remains the same: This is not about CBA negotiation, it is about one side preparing for a lockout since late 2007."

Smith goes on to list the steps he thinks the league has been taking in anticipation of a lockout.

"1. Hiring hockey's lockout guru (Bob Batterman) in 2008," his e-mail states. "2. Attempts to extinguish Judge Doty's jurisdiction (Vick Case); 3. Securing guaranteed TV money (Direct TV, NBC and others) to fund the lockouts; 4. American Needle Case: a win (in U.S. Supreme Court) eliminates de-certification; 5. This proposal; Steps 6 and 7. Divide the players and lock them out."

He concludes the e-mail with "Thank you for being leaders -- De"

In reaction, a management executive said, "Rather than debate Mr Smith's description of our proposal, we will continue to work to achieve an agreement that will support future growth in the game and that is fair to current players, retired players and clubs. We will work as hard as possible to accomplish that goal."


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