Union denies it wants lockout
Players and union officials said Thursday they are not seeking a labor confrontation with the sport's franchise owners and want to do everything possible to reach a settlement and avoid a lockout in March.
"Every player wants to play," Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said in a conference call with reporters. "Anything we would do would be in reaction to what the owners do. . . . We are literally waiting on the owners."
The union conducted its conference call one day after the NFL's outside labor attorney, Bob Batterman, said the leadership of the NFL Players Association wants the players to be locked out so that it can put to use its labor strategy of litigation and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Batterman's claim was strongly denied by the union Thursday.
"Any suggestion we want a lockout is coming from outer space," Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, said during the conference call.
Said Kevin Mawae, the retired NFL center who is the union's president: "We want to be on the field. We don't want a lockout. We didn't ask for this. We didn't opt out" of the labor deal.
The current labor agreement between the owners and players expires in March. The owners voted in 2008 to exercise a reopener clause and end the deal two years early.
Berthelsen said Thursday the union continues to believe that the owners will lock out the players after the agreement expires.
Batterman said Wednesday the league proposed nine possible bargaining dates to the union in December and the union took advantage of only one. Berthelsen said Thursday he was not aware of the union rejecting any proposed negotiating sessions.
Mawae said the last formal bargaining session between the two sides occurred around Thanksgiving. Berthelsen said informal discussions have continued but declined to say if any progress had been made.
- Mark Maske
l BRONCOS: Denver hired former Carolina Panthers coach John Fox to resurrect a downtrodden team.
Fox's contract wasn't renewed by the Panthers following an NFL-worst 2-14 season. He replaces Josh McDaniels, who was fired Dec. 6 amid the Broncos' worst slide in four decades and the embarrassing Spygate II videotaping scandal.
Fox, 55, went 78-74 including playoffs in nine seasons at Carolina. The Panthers were coming off a 1-15 season when he took over in 2002 and led them to a 7-9 mark in his first year before guiding them to the Super Bowl in his second season.
Denver is coming off a franchise-worst 4-12 season.
l BROWNS: Pat Shurmur, the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator the past two years, was hired by Cleveland, ending a search for its fifth coach since 1999 that began when team president Mike Holmgren fired Eric Mangini on Jan. 3.
Shurmur isn't a big-name hire, and his addition won't trigger a celebration by Browns fans or a rush of season-ticket requests. But to Holmgren, the 45-year-old's last name means success.
Shurmur's late uncle, Fritz, was Holmgren's defensive coordinator in Green Bay when the Packers won the Super Bowl in the 1996 season. And in hiring a candidate with no head coaching experience, Holmgren is following the same path he took in getting to the top of his profession.