NFL union leader paints bleak picture of future

The question to DeMaurice Smith was simple, coming from

Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco, asking how serious he viewed

the possibility of football not being played in 2011.

Smith did not hesitate.

“On a scale of 1 to 10,” Smith said Thursday, “it’s a

14.”

With that, the executive director of the NFL Players Association

painted perhaps the bleakest picture yet regarding prospects of

labor strife in the league, which could be looking at a 2010 season

with no salary cap and, if the collective bargaining agreement

expires as scheduled in March 2011, a lockout that year.

“I keep coming back to an economic model in America that is

unparalleled,” said Smith, who often repeated phrases for

emphasis. “And that makes it incredibly difficult to then come to

players and say, on average, each of you needs to take a $340,000

pay cut to save the National Football League. Tough sell. Tough

sell.”

Smith said the NFL would receive $5 billion from its network

television deals even if no games are played in 2011. He regarded

that as proof owners are preparing for a lockout.

“Has any one of the prior deals included $5 billion to not play

football?” Smith asked, referring to previous contracts that were

extended or redone. “The answer’s no.”

Some of Smith’s nearly hour-long question-and-answer session

during Super Bowl week was spent reiterating past claims, such as

team values increasing “almost 500 percent” over the last 15

years. There was also a call to have all 32 NFL teams open their

books to show who was losing money and how much.

Smith also said he wanted teams to contribute what, ultimately,

would be millions into what he called “a legacy fund” that would

better support retired players.

Most of his focus, however, was on getting a new CBA.

“I really and truly in my heart believe we’ll get a deal

done,” NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said. “But there’s going to

have to be some give and some take and not just taking from one

side all the way.”

The league’s response, in part, said that teams like the Green

Bay Packers – whose audited financial statements are the only ones

the union said it has seen – have had a 40 percent decline in

profits.

“In most businesses, that would be a serious cause for

concern,” said Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president and

chief counsel. “It would indicate a serious issue that has to be

dealt with. You look at your single largest expense, which is

player costs.”

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, whom the Colts are

planning to soon give a new contract that would make him the

league’s highest-paid player, acknowledged that he has

concerns.

“I think as a player, I feel we have a pretty good thing going

right now in the NFL,” Manning said Thursday. “It would a shame

for something to have to change along those lines. I understand

kind of like when a player is holding out or a player contract,

there is a business side of this that can be tough. It is not

always pretty.”

Smith said the latest NFL offer to the players would reduce

their share to 41 percent of applied revenues from about 59

percent. He emphasized that the teams take $1 billion off the top

of the estimated $8 billion the league generates.

Pash argued that the $1 billion reflects actual costs incurred,

money “invested in things like NFL Network, NFL.com, putting games

on overseas, all of which is intended to and has in fact had the

effect of generating substantial additional revenues, 50 percent of

which go to NFL players. And the union knows that’s true, because

the union has absolute rights to audit those expenses.”

Echoing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Pash said Smith’s

assertion that players are being asked to accept an 18 percent pay

cut – the $340,000 per-player-average figure – was among the

“misrepresentations of what our proposal is.”

“We have never said it would result in players having to take a

reduction,” Pash said. “The entire point here is to generate a

pool of resources to have continued investment and continued

growth, which would lead to higher salaries and benefits for

players.”

For now, some players say they’re bracing for issues. Mawae said

he even has recommended players save 25 percent of their salary

next season “in the event of a lockout,” though he noted “we

can’t make all 1,900 players save their money.”

“We’ve told them, `Don’t go out and buy a new boat. Don’t go

out and buy a new car. Pay off whatever debts you have,’ “ said

Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts. “These are things we’ve

been learning from history.”

Smith and Mawae said that if next season goes forward with no

salary cap, it would be highly unlikely to have a new CBA with a

cap reinstated.

“Virtually impossible,” Smith said.

“A very difficult task,” Mawae said.

Asked about the owners’ assertion that the 18 percent pay cut

request was false, Mawae said did not hold back:

“That is not true,” he said. “That is absolutely true they’ve

asked for 18 percent.”

Meantime, the union is increasing dues for now with the idea of

returning the money as income to players, if needed, during a

lockout.

“Our guys get it,” Mawae said. “Our guys understand.”

AP Football Writer Barry Wilner, AP Sports Writer Michael Marot

and Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer contributed.