Goodell frustrated by labor negotiations

January 18, 2011

So much for a new NFL labor deal being finalized by Super Bowl XLV.

What league commissioner Roger Goodell recently stated was a possibility clearly won't be happening. The best-case scenario now is for a pact with the NFL Players Association being reached before the March 4 expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If an agreement isn’t reached, the first NFL work stoppage in 24 years is expected to follow.

But for a new CBA to get done by then, NFL executive and lead negotiator Jeff Pash said both sides must quickly resume negotiations beyond ongoing but limited behind-the-scenes discussions. Pash said a "major formal bargaining session with full bargaining committees" hadn't taken place "since before Thanksgiving."

"There's not enough communication," Goodell said Tuesday after a special NFL owners meeting about the CBA in Atlanta. "It's not about the number of meetings you have but the quality of those meetings. It's about that commitment in a negotiation when you understand what the other party is saying and you work together to craft something that works for everybody. That's what productive negotiations are all about. That's what we need to get to."

Asked why such sessions haven't been held, Goodell said, "I wish I could tell you. There's a lot of frustration on that point."

There is frustration on the NFLPA's side as well. The union's main point of contention centers around the league's ongoing refusal to share financial information for all 32 NFL teams. Because of its standing as a publicly-owned franchise, Green Bay is the only club whose data is available.

The league has contended that the NFLPA already has extensive data about team finances through its own internal research. The union counters that striking a deal is impractical without having the franchise breakdowns in a league that generated $9 billion in revenue in 2009.

George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director for external affairs, told on Tuesday night that the union and league have already had "30-to-35 bargaining sessions. What point is there sitting down beating ourselves over the head when they're saying, 'We want $1 billion (in player salaries) back,' and when we ask why they say, 'Because we said so.'"

The desire for a revised revenue-sharing plan is the main reason NFL owners voted in 2008 to opt out of the CBA two years before it was originally set to expire. The NFLPA claims the league's revenue-sharing proposal is too lopsided because of a major reduction in player salaries. Other major issues being negotiated include Goodell's expansion proposal to an 18-game regular season and a rookie salary cap.

The lack of progress in negotiations has led to recent NFLPA legal maneuvering. The union has filed a collusion claim against the NFL with a special master and submitted a request through OHSA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) for player medical information. The NFLPA also filed a complaint to a special master in June alleging that the NFL's television contract was worded to provide team owners with billions of dollars from television networks even if no games were played. The NFLPA claims such money would be used to fund NFL teams during a work stoppage, which could lead to added leverage against the union. Pash said the special master's decision is expected to come soon. reported that the NFLPA's collusion claim centers around the allegation that owners conspired not to sign restricted free-agent players in 2010, a maneuver that would lead to major savings in salaries. Only one RFA (running back Mike Bell) changed teams. He went from New Orleans to Philadelphia after the Saints declined the opportunity to match a one-year, $1.7 million contract.

Atallah refused comment about the collusion claim. But the union's filing didn't sit well with some NFL officials. Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said the claim "doesn't help" the negotiating process.

"There is enough time to get a deal done if there's a serious ramping up of the intensity and a shared commitment to reaching a negotiated solution," Pash said. "If our focus is going to be on litigating, (union) decertification, (political) meetings in Washington and media events, it will be hard to get an agreement done."

Goodell echoed that sentiment.

"It's more litigation," Goodell said of the collusion claim. "I've said before this is not going to get resolved through litigation. It will get resolved through negotiation. It's time to get to the table and negotiate." NFL insider Jay Glazer reported that league and NFLPA officials are expected to meet either later this week or early next week. The NFL also has scheduled another owners meeting February 15 in Philadelphia on CBA matters.

"We've always found a way to work through it, continue to grow as a league and everything else," said Irsay, who remembers NFL labor strife dating back to the 1970s when his late father Robert owned the Colts. "I'm always an optimist but these things are tough. You don't know the timing on it."

Neither does Atallah, who is one of the NFLPA's top executives under union chief DeMaurice Smith.

"I don't see a reason (for optimism) right now," Atallah said.