NFLPA president rejects 18-game season

BY Alex Marvez • March 14, 2011

The prospects of an expanded regular-season schedule are even more remote than labor negotiations between the NFL and its players.

Kevin Mawae, the president of the now-decertified NFL Players Association, said the 18-game slate heavily pushed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as part of a new collective bargaining agreement "never will be" accepted by his group.

"Eighteen games is not going to happen through NFL player negotiations," Mawae said Monday afternoon during an NFLPA conference call. "We can't justify that for the health and safety of our players."

The NFL had hoped initially to convert two preseason games into regular-season contests as early as the 2012 season. Goodell himself has bashed the quality of preseason contests. An expanded regular-season schedule also would lead to increased revenue and better opportunities for international games designed at bettering the NFL's worldwide marketability.

“The fans have clearly stated that they don’t like the preseason," Goodell said during a Super Bowl XLV news conference. "The fans have repeatedly said the preseason games don’t meet NFL standards."

However, the players association has vigorously fought against expansion on the grounds of health and safety issues. There are concerns about shortened careers and increased chances for injuries and post-football problems like concussion-related damage.

The NFL's final proposal before CBA talks ended last Friday called for a 16-game regular season in 2011 and 2012, with the subject being revisited between the two sides in 2013. The NFL also offered reduced offseason programs, limits to full-contact practices and increased off days as a way to reduce player wear-and-tear.

Indianapolis Colts center and NFLPA representative Jeff Saturday said the players association was pushing for those kinds of reforms during almost three weeks of CBA negotiations with the NFL held under federal mediator George Cohen in Washington. Those bargaining sessions collapsed Friday afternoon, leading to the union's decertification and an NFL lockout of players once the CBA expired later that night. There are no more talks between the two sides currently scheduled.

"There were a number of things we talked about and moved on but nothing was ever agreed upon," Saturday said. "It seems every time we would move forward, a couple days later if negotiations were going shaky they would end up moving back on some issues. But I think there was some good communication to let the NFL know what changes were expected. We expected change for the betterment of the game and protection of the players.

"I did feel like we moved on a number of areas in a positive direction. But when we got to the end, those economic issues, some free-agent issues and other issues we have out there kept us from getting over the hump."

NFLPA members of the former union held the Monday news conference in hopes of combating what union executive George Atallah called "misinformation" being perpetrated by the NFL about CBA talks as part of a weekend media blitz. They also were upset at the portrayal of the NFLPA as walking away from the bargaining table and being intent upon decertification throughout the negotiating process.

Mawae went so far as to express frustration at NFL general counsel and lead negotiator Jeff Pash for "lying not just to us but the entire public and fans of the NFL over what happened in the past 14 days."

"It was all a front, a show with no real intent to getting a deal done other than saying they made a proposal that was no different than anything else they proposed over the last couple years, months and weeks," New Orleans Saints quarterback and NFLPA representative Drew Brees said. "The fact remains with what they demanded back from us (financially), we needed proof. We needed to see the financial information to back that up. It was never provided."

The NFL has countered by claiming it provided sufficient financial information to strike a deal and prevent the league's first work stoppage since a players strike in 1987. The NFL initially asked for an extra $1 billion a year in an "expense credit" to combat rising costs and fund stadium expansion before dropping that figure considerably in later negotiations. The NFL, which generated $9.3 billion in 2010, already receives a $1 billion expense credit before revenue is split with the NFLPA.

Mawae said the NFL later asked for a $1.66 billion rollback in player salaries over four years. The NFL's refusal to provide unfettered access to all team financial data was the breaking point in talks.

"It got to the point we could not bargain in good faith with them because they would not bargain in good faith with us," Mawae said.

Shortly after decertifying, Brees and nine other players (including quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as well as one top draft prospect) filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL seeking damage for monopolistic practices and asking the lockout be lifted. A case hearing will be held April 6 in Minneapolis before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson rather than David Doty, who has presided over most major CBA litigation since the labor pact was instituted in 1993.

Asked why he decided to become a lead plaintiff, Brees said, "It's important to me. I know by doing that I represent not only 1,900 players in the league now but guys that played before us. They're the ones who created what we have now in this league. I'm also representing the guys who are going to come after us."

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