Smith lashes out against NFL owners

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith used the same fiery and defiant language that was heard on the same sidewalk in front of the union’s headquarters a year ago.

“Simply stated, cartels do what will cartels do when left unchecked,” Smith told reporters Thursday afternoon.

The fact that the NFL and the players union agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement last summer hasn’t ended the adversarial nature between the two sides. That was evidenced by Smith’s tone and a lawsuit filed in federal court by the NFLPA Wednesday that accused NFL owners of colluding to create a secret salary cap in 2010 — a season which was supposed to be an uncapped.

In his first remarks since the lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Minnesota, Smith said the union had no choice but to seek legal action.

“When we feel those rules are violated, we will, on behalf of our players, always act in their best interests,” Smith said. “The second paradigm we know is that we have to live within the laws of these United States. Once again, where we find those involved in this business have violated that duty, out of respect for our players, that’s what we’ll do.”

Smith sloughed off questions about whether the NFLPA has a legitimate claim since it agreed to sanctions against the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. Washington ($36 million) and Dallas ($10 million) received cap penalties for what the league ruled were attempts to skirt the salary cap in forthcoming years by frontloading deals.

“I guess the first thing I would ask is that (the owners) aren’t denying the existence of the collusion, does it?” Smith said.

An arbitrator upheld those penalties on Tuesday and Smith said it’s not a coincidence the NFLPA brought its lawsuit a day later.

The league has denied that collusion among ownership ever existed.

Among the other issues Smith covered, included:

1. Player suspensions related to New Orleans Saints bounty program: Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (one year), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games), defensive end Will Smith (four games) and linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) each were suspended for their role in the bounty system established by Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator of the Saints.

“We have not seen once piece of evidence that would show one of those players got paid to target another player to injure him and get him out of the game,” Smith said. “If that is indeed the case, we represent the players who were targeted. … We have as much interest (in bounties), if not more, than the National Football League. What we want in this process is that these players get a chance to confront the truth.”

The players have appealed their suspensions.

2. Human Growth Hormone testing: The league and the NFLPA agreed to test for HGH as part of the CBA, but not a single screening has taken place. The NFLPA has held up the implementation of the program — despite Congressional intervention — mostly over the concern of the population study used to validate the test used for years by international sporting organizations and, more recently, Major League Baseball. The league and the NFL agreed to conduct a new population study, although Smith said the person tabbed to run the project recently stepped down.

“We are disappointed their selection has pulled out,” Smith said. “The players believe in a clean game, but also believe in a clean process.”

3. New mandates for hip and thigh pads: The NFL owners approved a rule earlier this week that would make hip and thigh pads mandatory starting in the 2013 season. NFLPA officials had said such a change should be negotiated since it involved a change in work conditions.

“I understand that position that the league took on hip and thigh pads,” Smith said. “It seems ironic to me that there has been discussion on hip pads and thigh pads and I have not heard one conversation on how we might develop a better mouthpiece or uniform helmet standards. If they want to focus on hip and thigh pads, I think I understand why.”