Former NFL defensive lineman Sean Gilbert outlined an ambitious plan Tuesday to attempt to galvanize support for his bid to be elected executive director of the players’ union next year.
Gilbert said he would use the anti-collusion provisions of the labor agreement between the league and players to void the deal and bring the owners back to the bargaining table to renegotiate a pact that he characterized as overly favorable to management. He said he would agree to an 18-game regular season in exchange for a lengthy list of player-friendly provisions that would include an increased minimum salary, earlier free agency for players, shorter rookie contracts, two fewer preseason games and a reduction of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s disciplinary powers.
DeMaurice Smith, the current executive director of the NFL Players Association, faces re-election in March and Gilbert plans to oppose him.
“I think this is an important time in the history of the NFLPA,” Gilbert said in a conference call with reporters after releasing a three-page, 23-point written platform on which his candidacy is based.
Gilbert said he’d discussed his platform with about 200 players and approximately 40 agents and found them to be receptive.
“It’s been really overwhelming and refreshing,” Gilbert said of his support among the players. “This is about principle and passion.”
The union declined to comment through a spokesman.
Some people with knowledge of the union’s thinking have said they believe Gilbert’s candidacy has been orchestrated by a group of disgruntled agents and they’re skeptical that Gilbert has widespread support among players. One agent who called himself unaffiliated with any candidate for executive director said later Tuesday that Gilbert’s proposals are provocative but, in many cases, perhaps unrealistic.
“It’s not a ‘king of the world’ position,” the agent said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid a public clash with any candidate. “These things have to be negotiated with the owners and you can’t get unlimited concessions simply from agreeing to an 18-game season. There is certainly some unrest out there and some room to challenge De Smith [but] we’ll have to see how far he can go with this.”
Gilbert said he is “extremely” confident he could terminate the current collective bargaining agreement by proving the owners violated it by improperly conspiring to restrict players’ salaries. Gilbert said his collusion claim is based on a “a different fact pattern” than a case filed by the union against the league and owners, accusing teams of operating with a secret salary cap during the sport’s uncapped year in 2010. That case was dismissed by a federal judge in December 2012 but reinstated by an appeals court in June.
Gilbert said he would agree to a proposal made by the owners during the last set of labor negotiations, to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games per team while reducing the preseason from four to two games per club. The union strongly opposed the proposal and the owners dropped it.
“In order for me to achieve this [approval of his other measures to benefit players], I have to give the owners a carrot,” Gilbert said Tuesday.
He said the NFL would be able to play the Super Bowl later, on Presidents Day weekend, under the plan he is proposing. Gilbert said that when he discussed an 18-game season with players, a “majority” of them supported his position when Gilbert explained what he would be attempting to achieve.
“They understood what I’m trying to implement in terms of trying to grow the game,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert’s platform includes a variety of points, including:
- A $1 million minimum salary for players (rookies currently make a minimum of $420,000)
- Rookie contracts being reduced from four to three years
- Players being eligible for unrestricted free agency after three seasons instead of four
- Limiting teams to only one use of the franchise player designation on a player during his career
- An increase in roster size by four players per team
- A reduction of the commissioner’s ability to resolve appeals of his own decisions in cases of player discipline
- A provision by which a player who is released by a team during his contract would, under most circumstances, receive 10 percent of the money that would have been due to him for the remainder of the deal.
Gilbert, 44, played for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, the Washington Redskins, the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders between 1992 and 2003. He sat out the 1997 season in a contract dispute with the Redskins involving the franchise tag, and was traded to the Panthers for the ’98 season.