The NFL Players Association will not agree to an extension of the sport’s collective bargaining agreement without meaningful changes to the current deal, according to DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners have expressed an interest in extending the current 10-year labor agreement, which runs through 2020.
“There’s not gonna be an extension of the CBA,” Smith said Tuesday. “I don’t know what he’s thinking when he says extension. But there’s not gonna be an extension of the CBA. If the owners are interested in talking about issues that are currently covered by the CBA or issues that aren’t currently covered by the CBA and they want to have a renegotiation on some of those issues, we’ll have a renegotiation of those issues. But there’s not going to be a 2025 [or] 2027 addendum to the CBA that says, ‘We’re good with this.’
“I don’t think that’s what he meant when he said extension. But I don’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time trying to unpack what other people are thinking when they say stuff.”
The union is willing to engage in discussions with the owners about a modified CBA that addresses the sport’s future economic conditions, Smith said, speaking at a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters.
“Do I think it’s smart to have some sort of conversation about where this CBA is in relation to revenue-generating contracts? Yeah,” Smith said. “Do I think it’s smart for us to have conversations now about how our fans are going to consume and enjoy our game 10 years from now? I think it’s probably a smart thing for us to have that conversation . . . I think it’s really important for us to think about the collective bargaining agreement and how it relates to television. I think that’s smart. But extension? I don’t know what he meant by an extension. But there’s not gonna be a ‘this thing as it exists now carries on into the future.’ We’d never do that. At least as long as I’m here, I would never do that because so many things change.”
Smith did not reveal what changes the union would seek in a new CBA. But the NFLPA previously has sought independent arbitration for penalties imposed on players by the league under the NFL’s personal conduct policy and integrity-of-the-game rules. Such a system would curb Goodell’s power. The two sides attempted to negotiate a deal on that issue alone but failed to complete an agreement.
“The CBA evolves all the time,” Smith said. “The best example is drug policy. So, I think it was a year and a half, two years ago the players thought — we thought — that we had an agreement, a stand-alone agreement on commissioner discipline that included neutral arbitration by a mutually selected group of judges. And at the last minute, they made the decision that they didn’t want to do a stand-alone agreement, that they wanted to do it as a part of something else, no. So if they want to talk about a renegotiation of important issues — and obviously commissioner discipline will come up — either it will get done or it won’t.”
Smith also said there is no validity to the portrayal that the quality of play in the NFL has deteriorated due to restrictions on practice-field hitting by players and limitations on offseason practices.
“We don’t negotiate with coaches,” Smith said. “I don’t [consider that complaint] because we don’t negotiate with coaches. Nobody from the league has talked to me about [it]. No owner has put a proposal on the table called ‘quality of play.’ . . . So if a coach or a general manager is really concerned about the quality of play, I know this guy — typically it’s a guy — called an owner and they should go and complain to him.”
The restrictions were put in place as part of the 2011 labor deal between the league and union, largely in an attempt to curb concussions and other injuries.
“We had nearly 4,900 reportable injuries last year for 1,800 players who play,” Smith said Tuesday. “And that’s with the new rules. So with all due respect to the coaches and the GMs, I don’t spend a nanosecond about what they think. If it’s important to them, they can go upstairs to their owner. Their owner can make a proposal. It can go to what they call the CEC [Management Council executive committee] on the NFL side. That’s their bargaining unit. And they can make a presentation to the players on what they want to do with increasing hitting or decreasing offseason time. I don’t know how it’s gonna go over.
“But I think it’s ironic that for all of the talk from those coaches and general managers, how come not one owner has brought that to the attention of the union? Roger Goodell has never made a presentation to me to change the offseason rules.”
With television viewership for NFL games in decline this season, some observers cited what they described as an erosion of the level of play seen, at least in part, in blocking and tackling fundamentals. The NFL’s TV ratings improved following the U.S. presidential election, a factor cited by many as a major reason for the drop.
“It’s utterly unprovable,” Smith said. “I don’t want to sound harsh, but no coach can sign the CBA. No GM can sign the CBA. My guess is if they could wave a magic wand, they would want to have our players in the facility for 18 of 24 hours. They’d want to play 18 games. They’d want to hit three times a day. And they would want to make sure that our players were available to them 11 out of the 12 months.”
Any such contention about the quality of play is highly subjective, Smith said.
“How does anybody measure quality of play?” he said. “What does that algorithm look like? You take all of the games played since the 1930s and you come up with some sort of quantifiable [measurement]? . . . I don’t know what it means and I don’t engage in the conversation because we don’t bargain with coaches.”