NFL Lockout: Talks Resume, Retired NFL Players File Suit

There's been a lot of brouhaha about this week of the NFL CBA negotiations, as we are right around a non-official deadline where preseason games would have to be dropped if a CBA is delayed and the lockout continues, which would mean a significant loss of income for the NFL. For all we like to mock the preseason, we do all seem to tune in.

Last week, much was made of the negotiations getting close to breaking up for whatever reason you wish to attach to it, sensationalist headlines and yellow journalism abounding. Personally, I'd like to offer this simile: imagine a horse race happening in secret. It has a limited amount of participants and observers, almost all of them with their own agendas. Those observers relay bits of the progress of the race to outsiders. Those outsiders then relay it to us. Now, I'll certainly follow the progress as best I can by third hand, but should we really take it to heart? I wouldn't put any money down on the race based on that, and I won't get upbeat or saddened by third-hand news here. One of my least favorite reporters in all of sports, Michael Silver, was raising a ruckus just last week about talks breaking down, and now he is reporting "the two sides are closer to an agreement than many people realize – perhaps than even some of the people involved realize". Journalistic credibility? What's that?

Sorry. Soapbox moment. On to actual news. The first of which is that talks have resumed following the 4th of July weekend, though Chris Mortensen reports that while NFL/NFLPA laywers are working on the language of the agreement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith are not expected to be present again until Thursday. The lawyers' grunt work on this deal is of almost equal import to the big dealmaking of the talking heads. A sloppy contract is worse than no contract. The fact that we have now handed this to the lawyers alone could indicate a lot of big decisions have already been made and need to be worked out, though one can easily leave in dotted lines for exact numbers to be filled in, and that is still reported as a big hurdle. If you're worried about the lawyers looking to sabotage the process to bring it to court and thus make more money, SI's Jim Trotter is reporting (here and here) that the NFLPA has renegotiated the contracts of their attorneys to include flat fees, removing incentive to drag out the process.

Sources tell Chris Mortensen "that an agreement is within reach but unlikely to be achieved this week". This is much in line with what Yahoo!'s Jason Cole reported weeks ago. Still, the pressure is building to get it done. As Albert Breer points out, both sides have a vested interest in not losing the preseason. That said, let's hope there's no panic leading to a shoehorned deal that blows up 3 years down the line. No one would be a winner there, except impatient fans.

In a much more unexpected twist in this ongoing saga, NY Times's Judy Battista reports that a group of NFL retired players (headed by Carl Eller) has filed an antitrust suit against the NFL. You may remember the group as they filed against the NFL earlier, which was joined to the Brady et al case against the lockout. Since then, the retired players feel they have been left in the dark as concerns the ongoing negotiations. No retired player representative is directly involved and they feel their interests are not being protected. Per Battista's article:

The complaint says that the current players and the association, with the N.F.L., "are conspiring to depress the amounts of pension and disability benefits to be paid to former N.F.L. players in order to maximize the salaries and benefits to current N.F.L. players."

(...)

The league has offered $320 million outside the salary cap — from the total revenue pool the league would contribute that would not come out of current players’ designated annual revenue share — and $320 million inside the salary cap. That would be a total of $640 million for the 10-year deal, or about $64 million a year toward future retiree benefits.

Retired players are angry with current players and the league. The figures the league proposed are less than what advisers to retired players say is necessary to pay for appropriate benefits and pension adjustments; they say it would take closer to $200 million to $300 million a year just to bring the myriad benefits programs up to where they should be. (The complaint notes that as of last December, only 3,154 former players received pension benefits, for an annual outlay of $63.7 million.)

Those numbers are pretty far apart. The NFLPA and NFL have been in disagreement over the details of the pension funds, but not so much on the numbers as on whether or not the numbers were binding and stated exactly in the CBA.

The retired players feel the NFLPA is not serving their interest, and is in fact conspiring with the NFL. That's a pretty hefty accusation. Will it have an impact on the ongoing negotiations? Like Battista, I feel it's unlikely the judge will resolve this by enforcing a retired player representative into the ongoing negotiations, as doing so would throw a serious spanner into the works. The retired players have very little solid ground to stand on here, they are not - as a legal entity - someone with much of any standing in this ongoing legal and commercial battle. Legally, the current players are under no obligation to give the retired players much of anything. As such, this particular suit is likely to be little more than another sordid footnote to this lockout.

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