WASHINGTON — Zeroing in on the crux of the NFL’s labor dispute — how to split $9 billion in revenues — players’ union executive committee member Scott Fujita said Tuesday the financial information turned over by the league so far “hasn’t been sufficient.”
Fujita, a Cleveland Browns linebacker, said the NFL Players Association has retained an international investment bank to help interpret what data the league does provide.
“It’s tough when you’ve got basically just a brief summary or a snapshot of all the information,” Fujita said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press and NFL Network. “That doesn’t satisfy what any competent business person would want to see.”
Fujita attended mediation sessions last month as part of the NFLPA negotiating team. He was not present Tuesday, the 13th day that Commissioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith went to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office for talks on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The current CBA originally was set to expire last week, but two extensions now have pushed the cutoff to the end of Friday.
While progress has been made between the sides, both have stuck to their stances when it comes to some central issues: The NFLPA has not agreed to any major economic concessions — and the NFL has not agreed to the union’s long-held demand that the league completely open its books.
One key question is what cut team owners should get up front to help cover costs such as stadium construction and improvement. Under the old deal, owners received more than $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to add another $1 billion to that amount, before other revenues are divided with players.
Although there might have been some movement in that area, it’s not enough for the union.
“We’re being asked to give back almost a billion dollars, so it’s important for us to adequately analyze and interpret the little bit of information that’s been provided,” Fujita said. “And ultimately, if they’re unwilling to provide full audited statements, then we need to know what other information we need to make a sound decision.”
Asked whether having full financial transparency from the league is a deal-breaker, NFLPA assistant executive director for external affairs George Atallah replied: “In the face of an almost billion-dollar ask? Yes.”
Atallah would not identify the investment bank, which he said has been advising the union for a “couple of months.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would not react to Fujita’s comments or the union’s announcement about the bank.
Fujita said he’s “hopeful” a deal can be reached by Friday, but he also noted: “‘Hope’ — I don’t know if that means anything.”
Either way, he considers it imperative that the players know more about the owners’ financial records.
“What they’ve provided so far hasn’t been sufficient. Asking for almost a billion dollars back — that’s a huge, huge leap of faith. And that’s kind of what it’s been so far — them asking us to take a leap of faith,” Fujita said. “And we can’t do that without sound judgment.”
New York Giants owner John Mara and Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen were among those accompanying Goodell on Tuesday.
The NFLPA group included union president Kevin Mawae and several current or former players, including Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel and Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth. Mawae flew in from Nashville on Tuesday morning; he was one of seven of the NFLPA’s 11 executive committee members attending Tuesday’s session.
Top NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler did not arrive at the mediator’s office when others did Tuesday morning. He also wasn’t present Monday, when talks resumed after a break over the weekend.
What will happen the rest of this week is still anyone’s guess. If a deal isn’t reached, the sides could agree to yet another extension and negotiate beyond Friday. Or talks could break off, leading to, possibly, a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.
The NFL has not lost games to a work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century. By agreeing to continue with mediation, the league and union made it clear neither was quite ready to make the drastic move of shutting down a sport that is more popular than ever. The past two Super Bowls rank No. 1 and No. 2 among most-watched TV programs in U.S. history.