NFL player leaders voted Tuesday to retain DeMaurice Smith as the union’s executive director and extend his contract without him having to face opposition from competing candidates during this election cycle.
The unanimous vote to keep Smith was taken by a 14-member selection committee established under a new set of election procedures.
The outcome of the vote was confirmed by Eric Winston, the veteran offensive lineman who serves as president of the NFL Players Association. Winston said in a written statement: “Congratulations to De and we know there is more work to be done.”
Under those procedures, all 14 members of the committee needed to vote to keep Smith for him to be retained without the issue being presented to the players who serve as team-by-team union representatives.
“This union is centered on player leadership,” Smith wrote Tuesday night on Twitter. “I am proud of their commitment, humbled by their trust in me and honored to serve. There is more work to be done.”
Washington attorney Cyrus Mehri had announced his intention to challenge Smith for the job. That won’t happen now, and Smith will lead the union through the upcoming set of labor negotiations. The current collective bargaining agreement lasts through 2020, and Smith has said he believes there will be a strike or a lockout in 2021.
“This approach with this secret constitution and vote of 14 disenfranchises 2,100 current NFL players, let alone former players,” Mehri said in a phone interview Tuesday night. “There are players on 26 NFL clubs that were not represented in this vote. [The players] were instructed not to look at other viable candidates, such as my campaign. His legitimacy has been thrown out the window, because he refused to compete like NFL players do every day. We’re going to right this wrong over time. We’re going to keep getting the word out. This robs players of their ability to control their destiny.”
In response to Mehri’s characterization of the voting process, one person familiar with the union’s inner workings pointed out that the NFLPA constitution is a publicly available document included in the required annual filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Smith has served as the union’s executive director since 2009. He led the players through a lockout by the owners leading up to the league’s 2011 labor deal. Smith was reelected by the players in 2012 and 2015. He faced eight challengers in 2015, leading to the new voting procedures. His current term was set to expire in March.
Under the election rules, the job would have been declared open if fewer than seven of the 14 committee members had voted to retain Smith. If seven to 13 members had voted to keep him, there would have been a vote taken of the team-by-team player reps, and Smith would have needed the support of at least two-thirds of them to be retained.
The selection committee included Winston and other players in senior leadership positions.
Under the election procedures, the players on the NFLPA’s ruling executive committee now will negotiate a contract extension with Smith.