NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s email to players about the current lockout and labor situation has started another war of words with the NFL Players Association.
Two NFLPA representatives from the Indianapolis Colts (middle linebacker Gary Brackett and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez) were so irked Thursday after reading Goodell’s letter that they worked overnight crafting an email response to all of their teammates that was sent early Friday morning. Brackett and Gonzalez refuted Goodell’s claims of what the league offered the NFLPA before negotiations ended last week and a lockout began.
"Looking at what commissioner Goodell sent out, it would be pretty easy for guys to say, ‘You know what? This actually looks pretty decent,’" Gonzalez said. "But we know as advocates for our players that we need to go point-by-point on this letter and show them how deceptive this really is.
"Deceptive isn’t the word. To say there are half-truths in that letter is ambitious. They’re like quarter-to-less truths. We’re trying to fill in the gaps."
Goodell spelled out elements of an NFL offer that he said would increase player compensation by as much as $20 million per team by 2014. Other parts include year-round reductions in practice time, an indefinite extension of the 16-game regular season schedule, enhanced benefits for players who retired before 1993, and changes in disciplinary procedures for failed drug and steroid tests.
"We need to come together and soon," Goodell wrote. "We are prepared to negotiate a full agreement that would incorporate these features and other progressive changes that would benefit players, clubs and fans."
During a meeting with player representatives in Marco Island, the NFLPA told its constituency that the league’s offer wasn’t as attractive as it may seem. The NFLPA contends that future player salaries are going to dip and other information was, as Brackett put it, "misleading" or "misrepresented."
"When you just look at the email itself, it’s really a joke," Washington Redskins defensive end and player representative Vonnie Holliday said. "That’s why you see some of the players around the league speaking out. This does not tell the story. This is just another ploy by the NFL to make us look like bad guys, to divide us. But we’re strong. Our leadership has been strong. Our players are informed.
"For the most part, I think (the NFL is) surprised at how strong we are as a group and what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. That’s what’s going to carry us throughout the rest of this process."
Gonzalez said the NFLPA is planning a mass email to players about Goodell’s letter but he and Brackett beat them to the punch.
"A lot of guys have been responding all morning saying, ‘Thank you for filling in the gaps. Keep it coming. It’s very informative,’" Gonzalez said. "That’s good to hear.
"Honestly, Roger Goodell has a huge voice. I don’t have that platform. We have to be more personal where he can be more public and get the message out."
The NFL and NFLPA have exchanged barbs since talks for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement collapsed last Friday, resulting in the league’s first work stoppage since 1987. The NFL instituted a lockout shortly after the NFLPA decertified as a union, leading to more charges that neither side intended to negotiate in earnest during almost three weeks of talks under a federal mediator.
NFLPA members weren’t happy that Goodell urged players to "encourage your Union to return to the bargaining table."
"Commissioner Goodell knows we’re no longer a union," Cleveland Browns tight end and NFLPA player representative Ben Watson said. "For him to put that terminology in there is very discouraging."
The NFL has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the NFLPA’s decertification is a sham. The NFL believes the NFLPA will reform when a new labor pact is finalized and the decertification was done only to create a legal loophole for litigation. The NFLPA contends it was forced to decertify because that was the only way to effectively fight a pending NFL player lockout.
The next major development to set the stage for future labor negotiations is expected April 6 when a federal judge holds a hearing about an antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 players against the NFL. Depending on the court ruling, the NFL may be forced to lift its lockout and start the free-agent signing period.
"The proposal (Goodell) set out in the letter is not exactly the truth as we’re being told," Watson said. "There are definitely a lot of things left out and some discrepancies. Both sides think they’re right. Both sides can be right as long as we get a fair deal. But right now, it’s about the court.
"He has the right to say whatever we want to say. We have a right to put out the truth."
Anthony Gonzalez, Gary Brackett, Ben Watson and Vonnie Holliday were interviewed Friday by Alex Marvez and Jim Miller on Sirius NFL Radio.