WASHINGTON — Had enough of the he-said, he-said rancor between the NFL and players? Don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.
The outcome of the league’s first work stoppage since 1987 could be decided in court; the first hearing on the players’ request for an injunction to block the owners’ lockout was scheduled for April 6. In the meantime, there probably will be more of the same as Monday, when Kevin Mawae — president of the NFL Players Association, the now-dissolved union — accused the league of spreading “complete falsehoods and complete lies.”
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, on the same conference call as Mawae, said the owners’ final offer Friday “was all a front.”
“I think it was all a show, with no real intent to get a deal done, other than just to say they made a proposal — that was no different than anything else that they proposed over the last couple years, couple months, couple weeks,” said Brees, a named plaintiff in the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the league.
Brees and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, also a member of the players’ executive committee, complained that the players were not given enough time to assess and ask questions about the proposal owners made Friday morning.
“It just seems odd you would wait until Friday to put out a 20-point proposal, when each point has a number of different details in it,” Saturday said.
The NFL’s lead labor negotiator, Jeff Pash, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that Friday’s proposal contained various new provisions. He said owners offered a 10-year deal.
“I was frankly surprised that the (owners’ labor) committee supported an offer as forthcoming as that was,” Pash said.
He also said the league would have been willing to agree to a third extension to the collective bargaining agreement, which originally was due to expire at the end of March 3, before two delays. But another extension, he said, “wasn’t really discussed in a serious way, because it was perfectly obvious they weren’t interested.”
By the end of Friday, talks broke off, the union announced it no longer would represent players, Brees and others filed suit, and the owners imposed a lockout at midnight.
“If they were saying they were not going to negotiate, under any circumstance, after 4 p.m. on Friday, don’t you think you have to ask yourself: Who was it who was in Washington putting on a show?” Pash said.
“We answered all the questions they had at the time, and we never put a deadline on it. We’re not the ones who were filing a lawsuit at 5 o’clock,” Pash said.
For all the things the owners and players disagree on, the two main sticking points are clear: how much money owners would get up front before dividing the rest of $9 billion in annual revenues with players, and the union’s demand for full financial disclosure.
“If we’re going to talk about ‘trust,’ maybe you should ask the owners if they trust each other to see each others’ books,” Mawae said. “I think that’s a greater issue than the players trusting the owners.”
Under the old CBA, owners received more than $1 billion to cover certain operating expenses, before other money was split with players. When negotiations began on a new deal, the owners sought an additional $1 billion off the top. Both sides acknowledge there was movement in that area.
But as the NFLPA’s lead spokesman, George Atallah, put it Monday: “The perception is that we were really, really close. The reality is we really, really weren’t.”
Because the NFLPA says it no longer is a union, but rather a trade association — a distinction the NFL calls a “sham” — Atallah said any decision to return to negotiations would be up to the lawyers representing the players, rather than NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Asked whether there would be talks before the April 6 hearing, Atallah replied: “As of now, no.”
The league, meanwhile, would prefer to return to the negotiating table. Starting Feb. 18, the sides met 16 times at federal mediator’s office.
“We would get back together with them tomorrow if they wanted to. We’re not the ones who walked out. We’re not the ones who renounced our status. We’re not the ones who filed litigation,” Pash said. “So we would get back together with them tomorrow. And if they have questions about our proposal, we’d answer them. If they have alternatives they want us to consider, we’d consider them.”
Mawae said that if the NFL contends the union walked away from mediation, “that’s a fabrication and a lie. We sat in that room … Tuesday and Wednesday of last week for 16 hours. … We met face-to-face a total of 30 minutes.”