NFL, NFLPA at odds over franchise tag

February 3, 2011

It's a game of tag that the NFL Players Association doesn't want to play.

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said Thursday that the union is willing to file a grievance against the NFL on behalf of anyone who is designated a franchise player by their respective team.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that the NFL has informed clubs that the franchise tag can be used for the 2011 season starting on February 10. The NFLPA contends that the franchise designation is invalid because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is expiring on March 4.

"If we don't have a deal for 2011, that means they don't have the right to do it for 2011. It's as simple as that," Berthelsen said after the NFLPA's annual Super Bowl news conference. "If they want to get together and do it anyhow, we can't stop them from doing that. But the agreement doesn't allow them to do that."


NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the union advised player agents Thursday "of our view of what the franchise tag means now and what it doesn't mean if we reach a lockout. Our position is that you can franchise anyone you want by whatever date you want. But if there's no CBA, the franchise tag will be meaningless."

Since the CBA was first adopted in 1993, the franchise designation has proven a valuable tool for teams in retaining the services of potential free agents for at least one additional season. Some of the big-name players expected to get tagged if long-term contracts cannot be reached include Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley, Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and New England guard Logan Mankins.

"[NFL teams] do have a problem in that you don't franchise a player unless his contract is expiring," Berthelsen said. "If you were to wait until after it expires and try to assert some rights, it can be too late. They were facing that issue. But the better way to deal with that is to come and make an agreement with us, not to just try and create their own perfect world for themselves."

The franchise tag is very likely to remain a part of the new CBA being negotiated between the NFL and its players union. Smith, though, bemoaned the lack of progress in talks with the league.

"I believe the league is taking steps to effectuate a lockout for a very long time," Smith said. "The players are committed to making sure that does not happen."

While the distribution of revenues is the main point of contention, other issues include the NFL's proposal for an 18-game regular-season schedule and the implementation of a rookie wage scale. While not completely dismissing the possibility of an 18-game schedule, Smith isn't publicly pushing for expansion. He said any changes that increase the risk of injury and could potentially shorten careers "is something that is not in the best interest of the players. That's going to be our position."

As for the rookie wage scale, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said the union made a proposal the league has rejected. Mawae said the union offered to reallocate $200 million per draft class in the next CBA with $100 million going toward retired players and the other $100 million being redistributed to veterans.

"When we asked for a guarantee that 100 percent of that $100 million would go to proven veterans, the exact words out of the (NFL) negotiating teams mouth were, 'We cannot guarantee that,'" Mawae said.

The NFL and NFLPA are slated to resume negotiations Saturday in Dallas with other meetings scheduled in the near future.

"Our fans don't want to hear us whining," Mawae said. "They don't care. They just want football. We as players want to play football."