The Future of the NFL, labor agreements, player conduct and more

DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, testifies before Congress on Nov. 3.
DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, testifies before Congress on Nov. 3. (Brendan Hoffman - Getty)

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DeMaurice Smith
Executive Director of the NFL Players Association
Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 11:00 AM

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was online Wednesday, Nov. 11 to take your questions about labor relations in the NFL, the next labor contract for the league, the possibility of an uncapped season, player conduct and the league's drive to bring a team back to Los Angeles.

The transcript follows.

You can also read more about the NFL with The Post's complete football coverage and the Post's NFL panel discussion group, The League which delves into the big issues in the NFL.

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DeMaurice Smith: Thanks everyone for submitting questions, I want to take a moment to salute our troops. It is a quiet day at the PA offices as we are closed, but I'm reflecting on our Veterans Day event from yesterday where Fred Smoot, Chris Cooley, Rock Cartwright, Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn came in to meet several wounded vets and members from Walter Reed. I'm proud of our guys and in awe of what our troops do for us every day since they never get a day off from keeping us safe.

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Fairfax, Va.: Of all the major professional sports leagues, would you agree that NFL players are in the least favorable position in regards to contracts?

Contracts are not guaranteed, and the "franchise player" tag too often is used against a players wishes.

As a result, contract disputes are a never ending constant distraction and nuisance for every NFL team, and tend to color fans' perceptions of players negatively.

You don't see that in the NBA, where a player knows that what he signs is what he'll get.

Would the players union be willing to concede a rookie pay scale (like the NBA) in order to gain some sort of guarantee on contracts?

DeMaurice Smith: The fundamental problem with any discussion on the rookie wage scale is that there has been no negotiation of a "scale" that would ensure that the money saved would go to veteran players. The veteran players are extremely wary of any restructuring of the compensation structure that does not include an automatic or guaranteed allocation of that money to veterans. If such a scale included putting the money saved into a pool for performance bonuses, veteran retention that has to be paid to vets it is worth discussing.

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Alexandria, Va.: I've heard NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell say repeatedly that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, as he enforces his code of conduct. And I see players take the punishment silently and without appeal. Shouldn't players have workplace rights? Shouldn't the NFLPA take a stronger role in representing players? Thanks for taking my question.

DeMaurice Smith: Your question is a good one and we have a very strong role in representing player rights. The core of our our function is handling the hundreds of grievances each year. Also we have taken the lead on workplace safety in the area of head trauma, ensuring players get their medical records and reiterating our request that the NFL turn over all of the aggregate medical data they collect from players every year and send to a research university. If it is collected from the players, it should be provided to the players to make their work and life after work as safe as possible

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New York, N.Y.: In recent testimony at a Capitol Hill hearing (in which you participated), former Bucs president Gay Culverhouse discussed the role that sideline physicians play in determining the health of players and mentioned that they are team employees. In what, like hockey, is probably the most dangerous sport to play, that seems mind-boggling to me. Of course, players are going to be sent back onto the field. Do you envision the players' association taking a more vocal role in demanding that independent doctors certify players' health?

DeMaurice Smith: We have called upon the NFL to change their practices in several respects: 1. to release the aggregate medical data they collect from players; 2. to embrace the decades of medical information relating to head trauma. We will continue to dedicate ourselves to making this game safer and I will not rest until I know we are doing everything to protect our players

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Elkridge, Md.: In this day and age of unemployment and hard economic times, do you feel it is in the best interest of the NFL to be going into a labor battle? Don't you think that it might present a negative image of all involved to hear about the millions of dollars the players and owners will be arguing over?

I would suggest a PR move by you guys that went something like this: The NFL and the Players Union have jointly decided to fire all our lawyers, who are only costing us time and money anyway, and sit down at a table like grown men, look over the books, and decide what fair compensation should be, and we are going to do this away from the cameras, so the American people don't have to listen to us vent our spleens. Is that a possibility Mr. Smith?

DeMaurice Smith: Great question, if you can get them to open their books, turn over the true profit of the teams for the last 20 years that will be a great start to a faster negotiation

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Bay Shore, N.Y.: Not sure if this is a CBA matter, but I would like to know when this totally unfair bye-week policy will be addressed. It is unfair when your division rival has a midseason bye week and yours is in week 3.

It is also unfair when you have four games with teams fresh off their bye week and your rival has one.

Why not have each division take their bye weeks in the same week, or have just two at midseason by conference? Seems a lot more fair!

DeMaurice Smith: We are looking at the bye week issue now and looking at that issue; it may become a bigger issue given the number of injuries as well.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: D,

I was wondering how the league would work if there was uncapped season. A team like the Redskins will go spend crazy. But what if the league comes to an agreement? Will teams have to still be under the cap when things go back to normal? Penalties, cutting players without cap ramifications, etc.

DeMaurice Smith: Interesting question. The uncapped year is also a virtually "unfloored" year as well. In addition to the ceiling change, there is a significant change to the minimum salary for players. The players have made it clear to me that they want a deal before the uncapped year, I agree with them that it is in the best interest of the game as well as the fans and the players.

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Rockville, Md.: How are the negotiations going? Do you think we will see a season without a salary cap next year or a lockout by the owners in 2011?

DeMaurice Smith: I have committed myself and exhorted our players to the goal of preventing a lockout. The upfront money to the NFL by the networks, the "game plan" by the owners for a lockout is a concern. I will do everything to ensure it does not occur but it will require us to work as one team with our fans, local officials, stadium workers (over 100K of them), and the families of our players.

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Cary, N.C.: Thank you very much for your time.

Do both sides actually feel that working toward a solution is for the common good?

What I mean is that as fans, we look at football as something that is ours. While from a business sense that my not be true, it is one of the motivators for our loyalty to the game. Because of this, negotiations that could take away "our" game really cause bad feelings among fan.

There are no winners in the fans' eyes with these negotiations. Do both sides truly understand this? Or is this, at the end of the day, a business negotiation?

DeMaurice Smith: I understand this completely. I grew up on Herb Mulkey, Diron Talbert, Pat Fischer and the late Harold McLinton. Clint Longley ruined my Thanksgiving dinner when he replaced Roger Staubach!!

I believe this is the fans game and we have an obligation to preserve it for them

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Alexandria, Va.: From the player perspective, what would be the possible downsides to an uncapped season?

DeMaurice Smith: There is virtually no floor to salaries for a veteran player.

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East Jibip, Mo.: What's the most enjoyable part of your job? Any regrets about taking the gig or surprises you've encountered?

DeMaurice Smith: No regrets. I have the best job in the world. The biggest downside? Let's just say I have a lot of frequent flyer miles. I was able, however, to keep coaching baseball and will fight to keep coaching my kids basketball teams

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Germantown, Md.: Once again, we the fans are going to be witness to an internecine squabble between billionaire owners and millionaire players. Meanwhile, the issue of players from many years ago suffering debilitating physical injuries and psychological problems goes largely unaddressed, or at least not pursued with the same vigor as the salary cap. What are your intentions vis-a-vis the older players who are suffering?

DeMaurice Smith: I've testified on the Hill about head trauma issues, pushed the league to embrace the decades of medical liturature on TBI injuries, called for the league to release the aggregate medical data they collect from players, signed an agreement that we sponsored to ensure every player gets medical records at the end of the season, we are reviewing the 88 plan/disability to make it easier to apply and evaluate medical evidence for disability, formed our own Traumatic Brain Injury Committee and now I take a medical doctor to every CBA meeting dealing with player safety.

I've been here for 7 months and been on the road for 5 of them and I'm just warming up. :)

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Mt. Lebanon, Penn.: Are some of these teams really on the financial skids or is that all just horse wash in order to run the price of the franchise up as a lure to outside investors?

What's your take on this?

Thanks much. Vietnam era Draftee/Veteran

DeMaurice Smith: I don't know, I haven't seen their audited financials. :)

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Rockville, Md.: The NFLPA's priorities are not clear. Are you trying to increase your percentage of revenues, add to the revenue sources, protect the status quo, trigger abolition of the salary cap, provide for benefits from NFL moving to LA, or other changes? Please list your goals in order of importance.

DeMaurice Smith: We signed a deal in 2006 that was to go until 2012. The owners walked away from that deal. We did not.

My priorities are to find out why $8Billion in total revenue generation is "not enough"; and to find out why over 500% increase in team values would warrant walking away from a deal. With every team according to Forbes being worth approximately $1B, our priorities couldn't be any clearer.

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Arlington, Va.: How do players feel about a longer season? Are they willing to do it if they get paid more, or are they against it?

DeMaurice Smith: The players want more infomation about a longer season. Right now there has been no proposal but their concern is what is the injury data, what do you do to decrease OTA's; Training Camp, Bye Weeks, and Roster Size. They also wonder how they could physically endure a longer season when many of them are spent and broken at the end of the current season. The would also like to know what the compensation structure could be since they don't know total profits per team.

They do know that the playoff scenario reaps huge financial windfalls for the teams (especially in a home game) but that their per game salary drops significantly.

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Players and doctors: DeMaurice, in order to give your members a better understanding of their true physical condition, especially after a serious injury, why doesn't the Players Association create a working relationship with third party doctors in each franchise city, in any number of categories (orthopedics, neurologists, etc.)? That way, your members could get a second opinion on their health from a trusted source.

Thanks.

DeMaurice Smith: Great question. We urge our players to get second opinions and are setting up a hotline number that goes to the NFLPA's medical Director to facilitate those referrals. Many of our players rely on second opinions and we work with their agents to ensure that they do.

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Waldorf, Md.: Do you agree with your predecessor that you only represent current players, and not former players? Will the current negotiation include additional benefits for retired players and if so, what role will they play in the negotiations?

Thanks.

DeMaurice Smith: I represent all players, current and former. I had a great meeting with the Philadelphia Retired Players and current Eagle Sheldon Brown went with me. The NFL Retired Players Association is composed of over 30 Chapter Presidents elected by former players, the 14 person Steering Committee is elected by them as well and I serve "shoulder to shoulder" with this elected body. I am proud to represent them and will continue to fight for better benefits for those who made this game.

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Baltimore: There has been a lot of talk about how the owners have refused to "open their books" and disclose their financial status information to substantiate their claims that the current cap system "isn't working" anymore. My question for you is, what information MUST be provided under the CBA to the NFLPA so that the union can police the terms of the existing CBA?

Thanks!

DeMaurice Smith: We get half the financial picture. We get Revenue information but do not get true profit information. My question is a simple one; if there is something wrong with this deal ... how much has every team made in profit during the last 20 years?

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Frederick, Md.: If you were to hazard a guess, what would you say are the chances of getting a new labor deal done to avoid the dangers of an uncapped year next year and creating more problems to be dealt with from there? Realistically and optimistically, how long do you think it will take to come to an agreement? If there is one ...

DeMaurice Smith: I am committed to getting a deal done before the uncapped year; so much that I believe that if we do not have one done by the end of January that we should lock ourselves in a hotel for five days and get one done. We owe that to our fans, especially in this recession.

I can't think of a better way to renew and express our appreciation to all of you who allow us the privilege to be involved in this sport.

Let's keep playing.

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DeMaurice Smith: Thanks to everyone for sending in your questions. I hope I'm invited back to do this on a regular basis. In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me or the NFLPA, you can always visit our website www.nflplayers.com.

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