NFLPA chief optimistic new labor deal can be reached

Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 5:25pm

New NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said Thursday he believes a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached with league owners, and that it needs to be done before the Armageddon of the uncapped year approaches in 2010.

Smith, who replaced the late Gene Upshaw earlier this year as the head of the NFLPA, has already met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and maintains an optimistic view of the situation, despite the potential for an uncapped year next year and a lockout in 2011.

“I’m extremely optimistic,” said Smith, who briefed Tennessee Titans players Thursday of the situation before a meet-and-greet with fans at the O’Charley’s on Murfreesboro Road. “Look, it is a sport where we generated $8 billion in revenue last year and 40 million people watched our draft. You think about that _ 40 million people watched the draft.

“I know the guys want to play football. Our fans want football. We’re in the toughest economy in our lifetime, and it seems to me the last thing we ever need to think about or contemplate is a scenario where games aren’t played because of a lockout.”

Smith made a somewhat impromptu visit to Nashville with ideas of visiting his sister-in-law’s family in Franklin, and center Kevin Mawae, president of the NFLPA, asked Smith to brief his Titans teammates on the situation with the CBA.

“They were making the trip here anyway and I was like, ‘If you’re going to be here, I’d like you to come and meet the players,’” Mawae said. “We weren’t initially on his list of team stops, the reason being that they felt like between me, David Thornton and Kyle [Vanden Bosch], that our team was pretty much well informed of the issues.

“But I just thought it was important for him and for the players to actually here him and get to know him a little bit. He did a great job. The biggest part was getting our players and getting them to understand where we’re at and what’s on the horizon.”

What is on the horizon is that players want NFL owners to open their books to find out exactly why the current CBA was reopened and shortened, and what needs to be done to fix the situation with a new deal. According to Smith, the consequences are the last thing players want. Hence, Smith’s decision to hasten the talks with Goodell and the owners.

“My timetable is this: There are serious consequences to our retired players and there are serious consequences even to some of our current players in an uncapped year,” Smith said. “So, why should we wait until we have serious ramifications to get a deal done? I’m happy to have started these talks, and I’m happy to have gotten them going.

“Roger and I are both talking about when the next meeting will be and what kind of information we need to get going on our next meeting. I’m extremely confident that we are moving at a good pace, and I don’t really have a timetable, except for I think that America would love to see us with a fair deal. And the sooner, the better.”

Mawae said more than just the players will lose if a lockout situation comes about.

"Our job as a union is to try to get everyone to understand what the issues are on all sides. “Obviously, you don’t want to get to a lockout. You don’t want that to happen,” Mawae said. “It’s not just the players that lose out. The fans lose out. You’ve got people working at the stadium that lose out, concession people that make money for their organizations _ everybody loses out in a lockout situation, except for the owners. We want to make a deal that makes sense for everybody.”

One of the factors thrown into the mix for a new deal between the owners and the union is whether or not to expand the regular season from 16 games to 17 or 18. Owners and fans seem to be in favor. Players are taking a more cautious approach in the matter.

“We know there is an interest in adding regular season games, but even today, players wanted to know, if that makes sense, then what does the average team make per game,” Smith said. “What does the average team make per playoff game? It’s not just that we don’t know what the profit-loss is per team. If you want to reach a decision about X, I don’t care what X is, everyone wants to know what the right information is to talk about how to get there.”

Smith touched on the subject of how much additional windfall revenue is afforded teams that host playoff games in January, given that those games are never budgeted for when the season begins by individual teams. He says players play postseason games for less salary than the regular season in many cases.

“The players have a pretty acute understanding of we could be in a situation where there is a home playoff game that no one really budgeted for or prepared for,” Smith said. “Not only do concession prices, attendance, ticket prices and television viewership go up, they know that their salary in some cases, drop from hundreds of thousands of dollars per game to $20,000. They ask a very simple question: What’s the profit margin on a playoff game. If you want to talk to us about whether we add a late-season, [regular] season game, well, what’s the cost.”

He pointed out that the players themselves, with the toll the game takes on their bodies physically, are already paying the cost of additional games.

“When I was in that room talking to the players, there were three players in knee braces,” Smith said. “You see Kevin Mawae with an ice pack on his elbow. He just left with a sleeve that’s pumping medication into his elbow.

“Our players know the cost of playing football. They understand the cost. Their families understand the cost better than anyone. But they have a lot of questions on what is the right cost compensation model if you want to add two regular season games to the end of the season.”