Money still key factor in NFL labor talks

As the NFL’s labor pact approaches expiration, revenue sharing and an 18-game regular-season schedule remain two significant differences in negotiations between the league and its players union.

NFL players association executive director DeMaurice Smith told a radio-station gathering on Wednesday night that the NFLPA will not support schedule expansion. This must not sit well with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has pushed strongly for an expanded regular-season schedule at the expense of two preseason games.

But a sizeable number of players have spoken publicly against an 18-game season primarily because of health concerns.

As for his quest to persuade NFL team owners into opening their financial books, Smith has done everything but channel his inner Tom Cruise and scream "Show me the money!"

On the opposite side, the NFL’s top labor negotiator said Wednesday that the league has given its players union "more detailed financial information than it has ever had before" and insinuated the NFLPA has sufficient data to reach a new collective bargaining agreement without specific team figures.

Such divergent viewpoints threaten to derail labor talks and trigger the NFL’s first work stoppage in 24 years.

As the Friday CBA deadline approaches, revenue sharing remains the biggest hurdle in negotiations. Smith implied the NFL has reduced its requested annual player salary rollback to $800 million in a five-year CBA from the $1 billion requested in initial negotiations. Smith, though, also said the NFL hasn’t offered the financial information that "we asked for."

"According to our investment bankers and advisors, that information would be utterly meaningless in making a determination about whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League," Smith said after a 14th day of joint labor talks with a federal mediator in Washington, D.C.

"We have consistently requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009, well before even our first collective bargaining meeting. We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league’s request for a multibillion (dollar) check written by the players back to the owners."

NFL teams receive roughly $1 billion annually in the current revenue-sharing plan before the remainder of the money is split between players and owners. The NFL is expected to generate a record $9.3 billion in 2010 total revenue.

The league wants to increase its $1 billion "expense credit" to help account for diminishing profit margins and fund new stadium projects, which could lead to more profits for the players.

When the NFLPA chafed at the size of the rebate during CBA negotiations, the NFL recently provided more financial data. The league, however, remains reticent to detail every exact expense of its franchises.

"Has (the NFLPA) gotten everything it wants? Evidently not," NFL counsel and lead CBA negotiator Jeff Pash said Wednesday night after leaving the meeting with a party that included league commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely. Is it a subject we’re prepared to discuss? Absolutely."

Pash, though, also said the "financial disclosure issue was not discussed further across the table" on Wednesday.

"The union knows what we’ve proposed to do and what we’ve proposed to make available," he said. "We understand their position. We’re onto other subjects."

An 18-game regular season and rookie wage scale are two of those subjects.

Yahoo Sports reported Wednesday that agreement was tentatively reached on a rookie wage scale that will greatly curtail signing bonuses and limit the length of contracts for first-round picks to four years. Other media outlets have disputed the report. Pash wouldn’t comment.

"I don’t want to get into specifics on individual issues," he said. "The (mediation) director asked us not to do that. I want to respect that. The first rule is nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. We’ve got a ways to go."

The big question now is whether that gap can be bridged quickly enough to avoid a work stoppage. If the framework of an agreement isn’t reached by Friday afternoon, the NFLPA is expected to decertify as a union. That would be followed by player lawsuits in court against the league as well as a counter NFL challenge to the union’s decertification process.

Such litigation could last for months and impact the regular season.

If the NFL were to provide data satisfactory to the NFLPA, the auditing process likely would take time as well and could result in a third CBA deadline extension. Both parties agreed last Friday to a weeklong extension.

Asked the chances of a deal being done by Friday, Pash said, "Don’t know, but we’re going to work on it. If there’s a deal to be done, we’re here to make it."

Smith would assuredly disagree.