Player representatives are scheduled to vote Friday on whether to extend DeMaurice Smith’s contract as executive director of the NFL Players Association or open the election process to additional candidates next year, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
Smith was elected in 2009 and reelected in 2012 and 2015. In 2017, the 14-member selection committee voted unanimously to extend Smith’s contract without opening the process to other candidates the following spring. No vote of the board of player reps was required that time because of the unanimous vote of the selection committee, and Smith was signed to a four-year contract extension that expires next year.
He negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement with the league and team owners that was ratified by the players in a narrow vote in March 2020. Smith also worked with the league last year to ensure the NFL played a full 2020 season amid the pandemic, with a series of games being rescheduled but none canceled.
The fractious nature of the players’ CBA approval vote last year signaled a far more difficult unopposed reelection process this time for Smith. The deal was ratified by a vote of 1,019 to 959, an approval rate of only 51.5 percent. Prominent players such as star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson and standout defensive players J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman expressed opposition to the deal.
The CBA gave the owners a 17th regular season game that they had sought, with the longer season put into effect this year. Players, in return, received an increased portion of revenue under the salary cap system, up to 48.5 percent in conjunction with the switch to 17 games. The NFLPA estimated that to be worth an additional $5 billion to players over the course of the agreement.
Smith wrote in an open letter at the time of the players’ CBA approval vote that he had heard “loudly and clearly” the opposition of some players, but he defended the deal.
“The current proposal contains increases across almost every category of wages, hours, working conditions and benefits for current and former players,” Smith wrote. “Like any contested negotiation … the proposal also reflects trades with the counterparty which have to be carefully weighed and assessed across the entirety of the deal.”
Smith has had a combative relationship with the league, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners at times, particularly over issues related to player discipline. He led the players through a 4½-month lockout by the owners before the sides struck a labor deal in 2011. But the union and league had an improved working relationship as they dealt last year with coronavirus-related issues, to the point that Goodell and Smith appeared together for part of their media sessions in February during Super Bowl week in Tampa.
Under the NFLPA’s election procedures, if at least two-thirds of the player reps vote to retain Smith, he would remain as executive director without other candidates being considered. The NFLPA’s executive committee would negotiate a contract extension with him. The same result would have been achieved by a unanimous vote of the selection committee, which includes the executive committee and the three longest-tenured player reps.
If fewer than two-thirds of the player reps vote to retain Smith without opposition, the election will be opened to other candidates; the same outcome would have resulted from Smith getting fewer than seven votes from the selection committee. The selection committee would then be empowered to conduct a search and identify two to four candidates, with the player reps electing an executive director, via majority vote, at the NFLPA’s annual meetings in March.
Smith was opposed by eight challengers, including former player Sean Gilbert, when he was reelected in 2015. That crowded field of candidates led the NFLPA to revamp its election process and put the current procedures in place. Before the players’ vote in 2017 to retain Smith and extend his contract without considering other candidates, attorney Cyrus Mehri had announced his intention to vie for the job. Mehri is the co-founder the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the diversity group that works closely with the NFL.
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