Month: June 2011

Chicago meetings pivotal for Goodell

By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports Jun 18, 2:47 pm EDT

 Will there be a Chicago 9 to emerge next Tuesday and Wednesday from among the NFL owners?

If there are nine – the total number of owners out of 32 needed to block the approval of a deal with the players and keep the lockout going – what will it mean to the short-term future of the 2011 NFL season? Just as important, what could such a snag mean to the long-term prospects of Roger Goodell as the league’s commissioner and several others in the league office?

“There’s a lot on the line [next] week,” one owner said Friday. “I don’t envy Roger’s position because he has to make a lot of people happy. I think there’s enough common sense out there that we’ll get something done, but there are also some [owners] who still want to fight.”

That desire to fight may exist even though two sources familiar with the circumstances – one on the players’ side – indicated earlier in the week that the players are willing to give owners upwards of nearly 60 percent of the “true up” money over the next three to four years. In other words, if the owners were to grow the business by $1 billion above projections in a given a year (a huge but not impossible gain), the owners could get nearly $600 million of that additional money.

The deal is expected to be vastly more complicated than that, featuring a reset of the percentages after a three- or four-year period. But the basic idea is that players have come a long way from the simple 50-50 split they offered in March.

The problem is that ever since the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2008, there has been a strong subset of them who have pushed to fight the now decertified NFL Players Association for significant rollbacks in the portion of money going to players. Initially, this was not just a slight adjustment this group was seeking. It was an attempt to turn back the clock to pre-2006, when players shared in only a part of total football revenue, not all of it. They didn’t want just a chunk of money back; they wanted a $1 billion boulder right off the top to go with the other $1 billion they were already getting.

That was $2 billion going straight into the owners’ pockets out of a little more than $9 billion the league currently makes. When that idea crumbled, the owners countered with a system that didn’t account for potentially huge increases in revenue that are expected to occur when the television contracts, which expire following the 2013 season, are renegotiated. That’s when the players, frustrated with the perceived shell game and lack of respect that went with it, walked away from the negotiations in March, decertified as a union and filed a lawsuit.

Some in the ownership group saw that as a positive in the big picture because it meant that the hardliners – generally believed to include the likes of Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals), Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins) and Ralph Wilson (Buffalo Bills) – would have to back off because their power play failed.

Now, perceived moderates such as John Mara (New York Giants), Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), Bob Kraft (New England Patriots) and Dean Spanos (San Diego Chargers) have become the lead negotiators for the owners. Richardson has also been part of the process and some believe he has mellowed somewhat the past two months, particularly after his embarrassing treatment of players such as Peyton Manning(notes) became public. Likewise, Kraft was once seen as a hardliner early in the process, but has become much more of a peacemaker since late last season, repeatedly saying that a deal could be made, particularly if the lawyers were left out of the process.

Or as Mara said during the meeting of owners in Indianapolis last month, the best way to a long-term labor peace was a fair deal.

“If it’s not fair, all that means is that you’re back at the table faster,” Mara said.

The question is whether enough other owners agree with Mara’s sentiment. When the league gathers in Chicago next week, Goodell and other members of the negotiating team will update the other owners on the state of the negotiations. Goodell is expected to explain what the split of the money will be under a new deal and will recommend that the owners do the deal, although there is not expected to be a formal vote.

Another tricky element to all of this is that the vast majority of owners have little knowledge of what the deal is right now. Because Judge Arthur Boylan, who has been mediating the sessions, has requested that both sides keep the talks as confidential as possible, very few owners outside the negotiating team are believed to know the specifics.

That has been good because it has allowed for more progress. It’s bad because not knowing leads to anxiety and frustration.

“Your first reaction to most deals is to poke holes in it. It’s human nature,” a second unnamed owner said. “You always want the perfect deal, everything to go your way, and you have to think it through to figure out what’s acceptable. In this case, you have to multiply that process by 32 … when we sit down and look over this deal, I’m curious how the room is going to react. We’re at a critical stage.”

It’s critical on multiple levels.

First, and most immediate, there’s a time crunch to get the season started. Many executives in the league office and with different teams believe that free agency must begin by July 15 at the latest in order to start training camp on time and have a full preseason. Otherwise, the league starts to lose some of the reported $700 million-$1 billion that’s tied up in training camp and the preseason.

Second, if a deal isn’t reached now and the owners reject the work that has been done with the players, this could turn into a long fight that goes until at least September and could cause significant backlash to the league. In January, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stated that a group of owners were willing to lose an entire season in order to get a better deal with the players. While that sounds brave, it may be tactical suicide depending on how the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on the league’s appeal to maintain a lockout.

While it’s widely believed that the three-judge panel will rule in favor of the league’s ability to lock out the players for the time being, it’s also believed that the league will lose that power at some point. Specifically, the judges sounded as if they would allow the players to return to court in September, when the previous collective bargaining agreement allowed them the freedom to decertify and, therefore, file an antitrust lawsuit.

At that point, the league could be brought to its knees because it could lose the ability to lock out the players. In other words, the league is doing OK in court right now, but eventually there aren’t enough fingers to put in the dam. At that point, the players could end up with the kind of power akin to what their brethren in the NBA and major league baseball have gotten over the years.

Third, all of this could reflect poorly on Goodell, who has already taken his fair share of shots through this process. Over the first four years of his tenure as commissioner, Goodell was seen as a powerful force, coming up with new ways to make money for owners and being tough on players with his discipline.

However, the negotiations with the trade association have exposed Goodell as weak in the eyes of many people, particularly players. From Derrick Mason(notes) to Chester Pitts(notes) to getting booed by fans at the NFL draft in April, Goodell has been openly criticized on numerous fronts. For instance, there was a curious reaction on the morning of March 11, the day that talks broke down with players. King wrote that Goodell had been given approval by the owners the previous night to cut the best deal he could get.

Rather than seeing that as proof of Goodell’s power, many people around the league, in the media and, most importantly, among the players wondered why Goodell didn’t have that power before.

Or as the aforementioned source on the player’s side said, rhetorically: “If he couldn’t cut a deal before, why were we talking to him?”

That is a fascinating question that gets to the heart of how little the owners trust the man they elected to follow Paul Tagliabue, the guy who has taken much of the blame for the 2006 deal that owners quickly came to hate. From there, there is a trickle-down effect to people such as NFL vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash.

Could Goodell be in trouble if he can’t keep the hardliners in line and this negotiation blows up?

“I hope not, but it’s a really good question,” the first unnamed owner said.

Yet another reason to bench the lawyers

Our item from earlier today regarding the respective conflicts of interest for NFL outside lawyer Bob Batterman and NFLPA* outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler has generated a couple of comments that reminded me of something I forgot to post earlier in the week.

Apart from the situation that arises when lawyers are representing multiple pro sports leagues and/or multiple pro sports unions, the lawyers in this case who aren’t on salary are presumably billing for their time by the hour — and those billings go a long way toward paying the bills for the lawyers’ firms.

On Monday, Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reported that the NFLPA* annual report revealed an expenditure of $8.9 million in legal fees on the labor situation for the 12 months in the year that ended on February 28, 2011. Of that amount, Jeffrey Kessler’s firm received $2.87 million.

Bob Batterman’s firm undoubtedly billed the NFL in a similar amount over the same time period.

Surely, those number have grown since the lockout began, and likely at a much higher rate. The payments made through February 28 would reflect, at most, activity through January 31, 2011, given the manner in which most law firms create and submit their invoices. With the legal work spiking dramatically in February 2011 and even more in March, April, and May, an effort to track the legal fees likely looks something like the national debt clock.

Perhaps the post-lockout invoices from the various law firms have helped persuade the parties to focus on getting a deal done. With no money coming in, the last thing either side needs is millions of dollars in monthly legal fees.

Until a deal is done, the best way to control the legal fees is to keep the lawyers out of the process, completely.

Reposted from PFT

Posted by Mike Florio on June 16, 2011, 3:09 PM EDT

Reuters

Eric Crouch trying out for Nighthawks

OMAHA, Neb. — Eric Crouch is giving pro football yet another try.

The 2001 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Nebraska is among 70 players participating in a minicamp this week for his hometown Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.

Crouch was a 2002 third-round NFL draft choice of the St. Louis Rams. The Rams projected him as a receiver, and he walked out of training camp and announced his retirement after not being given a chance at quarterback.

He hasn’t played since 2006, when he was a quarterback for three games with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Since then, the 32-year-old has run a playground equipment company and sold medical supplies in Omaha and done some broadcasting.

I don’t think I’ll ever get football 100 percent out of my system," Crouch said Wednesday. "I don’t think that will ever happen. Maybe it will. I know I’m going to be a little bit rusty and I’ll be a little bit behind. I feel I can go in and help the team win."

Crouch has been working out with former Nebraska players in Lincoln in recent weeks, but didn’t decide until Tuesday to accept the Nighthawks’ invitation.

"I think Eric recognizes he hasn’t played in a while and he’s rusty," coach Joe Moglia said. "He’s done a great job of keeping in shape. He’s not in game shape. But at the end of the day, there wouldn’t be the remotest chance Eric would be doing this unless he was taking it seriously and wanting to truly give this his very, very best shot."

The UFL is entering its third year as a haven for players who were cut in NFL training camps and veterans who want to get back to the NFL.

The 2010 Nighthawks featured Pro Bowlers in Jeff Garcia, Cato June and Ahman Green, as well as former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett.

Garcia and Green no longer are on the roster, and Moglia acknowledged that the addition of Crouch would be good for public relations.

Crouch grew up and played high school football in Omaha before becoming Nebraska’s third Heisman Trophy winner. After leaving St. Louis, Crouch tried out with the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs and played a season in NFL Europe before landing in Canada.

"Since leaving Nebraska," he said, "it’s been a less-than-stellar professional career, hopping from team to team, league to league, having injuries and uncertainty," he said.

The other quarterbacks in the Nighthawks’ minicamp are last year’s backup, D.J. Shockley out of Georgia, and rookie Jeremiah Masoli, formerly of Oregon and Mississippi.

Crouch said the seven practices in four days will tell him how much he still wants to play, and whether the Nighthawks want to invite him to training camp next month.

Unlike other UFL players, Crouch isn’t looking to play in the NFL. Married with two young children, Crouch said he wants to play the sport he loves in the city where he lives.

"I’m a very competitive person and I’ve never yet won a championship — little league, high school, college or professionally," he said. "There’s something about being on a championship football team. That still drives me. Maybe it sounds quirky, but that’s the competitive drive in me."

Crouch expects to be mocked for trying to revive his football career again.

"I’m really not concerned too much with how people will perceive my decision," he said. "Life is short and you have to enjoy what you’re doing, and I’ve always enjoyed football. I really truly feel I still have the skill set to play it."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

League, players agree the time to do a deal is now

To the untrained eye affixed to a head featuring a mouth inclined to gripe simply for the sake of griping, today’s simple statement from the NFL and the NFLPA* that talks are continuing could cause plenty of frustration. To the folks who get it, the 21-word joint quote represents the cherry atop the whipped cream that decorates the hot-fudge-and-justified-optimism sundae that the owners and players have served to the football-following world.

The two sides are talking. The lawyers have been left out of the process. No one is running to the media to bicker or snipe. And, as Albert Breer (not Brooks, Rosey, Breer) of NFL Network reports, both sides realize that the time to do a deal has arrived.

That said, getting there will take some time. An NFL source told Breer that four-to-six weeks will be needed to progress from “serious negotiations” to the drafting of a formal document. An NFLPA* source said that there’s a 30-day window to get a deal done.

Breer pegs the date for a deal to be reached and a “normal” preseason to occur at July 15.

Also, Breer mentions something we’ve previously heard regarding the initiation of the current talks. Even though it has been reported that the mediator, Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, requested the negotiations, the talks actually commenced at the behest of the NFL, which has been pushing the “kick out the lawyers and let’s make a deal” concept for months. And despite an ill-advised remark from NFL appeals counsel Paul Clement on the courthouse steps following Friday’s hearing before the Eighth Circuit, a league source has vowed to Breer that the owners won’t contend that the negotiations constitute collective bargaining.

“Both sides feel the pressure now,” another league source told Breer. “There’s risk on both sides legally here. Neither side is completely comfortable with its legal position. So it’s imperative to work now before one side or the other potentially gets the upper hand.”

Amen. And we saw that not because that’s exactly how we’ve analyzed the situation, but because it’s exactly the right approach. (OK, and because that’s exactly how we analyzed the situation.)

Of course, there’s still a long way to go. But these issues are going to be resolved eventually.

Joint Statement from NFL and NFLPA

It has been hard for the NFL and NFLPA to agree on much of anything this offseason, so it’s nice to pass along the second joint statement from the two groups in as many weeks.

Even if it doesn’t tell us much.

“NFL owners and players have engaged in further confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan this week. Those discussions will continue,” the statement reads, as provided by NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

So the not-so-secret talks are even less secret now. Aiello writes that the NFL attendees this week include Commissioner Roger Goodell, Jerry Richardson, Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, John Mara, and Dean Spanos. The five owners are all members of the league’s labor committee.

Representing the players: DeMaurice Smith, Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Tony Richardson and Dominque Foxworth.

Once again, no lawyers are present. (Unless you count Smith.) NFL.com’s Albert Breer reports that talks are taking place in Long Island, not in New York City as first reported.