And that's exactly where, in retrospect, Green Bay Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy thinks the NFL Players Association wanted it all along.
"At the end of the day, I really believe that the players' strategy really has been and continues to be that they feel they're better off going the litigation route," Murphy told reporters in Green Bay via a conference call while waiting for his flight to Green Bay in Washington on Saturday afternoon. "Having been through the process really over the last year-and-a-half, almost two years — and certainly the 17 days of mediation — it became pretty clear that they weren't really bargaining."
So, despite what Murphy represented as the league's extreme willingness to strike an accord before Friday's deadline, the NFLPA instead decertified, the league chose to lock out the players and the talks will move from a federal mediator in Washington to a federal judge in Minneapolis.
According to Murphy — who was a team rep while a safety for the Redskins and worked for the NFLPA upon retiring — the NFL made a $320 million move to the players in its Friday offer, essentially splitting the $640 million per year difference between the sides. Murphy said average salaries would not have been cut. Rather, the salary cap would have been a negotiated figure instead of pegged to revenues, with the NFL's proposal for 2011 being "roughly the equivalent" of the 2009 cap, or about $128 million, and more than what teams spent in the uncapped 2010. Echoing what the league said on Friday, Murphy said the league agreed to the players' demands that the 2014 cap be $161 million.
"We were hopeful that it would be well-received, but obviously it wasn't," Murphy said.
After Murphy's conference call, Jason Wied, the team's vice president of administration/general counsel, met with reporters in a conference room on the third floor of Lambeau Field for about 40 minutes. The issues, Wied said, go beyond money to such an extent that Wied didn't believe giving into the players' demands for more access to team financial data would have prevented the breakdown of talks.
Wied pointed to the "inequities" of rookie salaries, with the current system allowing "untested rookies to come straight from college and be making more money than tested veterans." Savings, Wied said, would be pumped into veterans' contracts, though the union is dubious that would be the case.
The league wants the ability to recoup signing bonuses from players who have been arrested or broken the player conduct policy, as well as a tightening of the drug policy and working with the players to improve benefits for retired players.
Another issue, Wied said, is a collective bargaining agreement is the "foundation of our entire business model" and the CBA, rather than the legal system, should govern the relationship between the league and the players. It seemed to be a pointed mark in light of the players' decertification.
"The players are well-represented, the teams are well-represented," Wied said. "We're all big boys and we should be handling our relationship and our CBA, including the negotiations and the administration and the enforcement between the parties and not running to lawyers and judges to decide what our relationship should be."
Wied called the last CBA extension, agreed to in 2006, a "Band-Aid" measure that wasn't working well for the league, which led to it opting out of the deal and, eventually, the current stalemate. A new CBA must look ahead to the next 10, 20 and 30 years, he said. It's that forward-thinking that seems to be at the heart of the matter. The NFL is a $9 billion a year business, but before splitting that figure, the teams want to take a share off the top for "cost recognition" of things such as stadium expansions and new scoreboards, investments that eventually provide more revenue to fuel increases in player salaries.
"The increased revenue, the majority of that goes to the players. That's fine," Wied said. "The players are entitled to the majority of the revenue. But we're asking that these increasing costs be recognized within the system. We should have an incentive to grow the game. We should have an incentive to add seats to stadiums or to make the amenities better at stadiums and to do good deals. Instead, what we're finding is the expenses related to those efforts are growing quicker and faster than the revenue. That's not good for any business. That's not tolerable for any business. You can't have the expenses growing at a much faster rate than the revenue for a long period of time. That's the system that we're in right now."
Murphy hopes the lockout will put pressure on the players to come back and bargain in "good faith." However, the lockout might not last past Monday.
The litigation track is under way, with the league filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board stating the players did not bargain in good faith and that the NFLPA decertification was a "sham and a bargaining tactic." Murphy said he expects that ruling to come "sometime fairly soon."
Meanwhile, Murphy expects the NFLPA on Monday to ask a federal judge in Minneapolis, David Doty, for a temporary restraining order that would put the brakes on the lockout. Regardless of what Doty rules, the loser is certain to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
What does all of this mean? CLICK HERE for this from sports law professor Michael McCann.
"It's complicated and it really is a challenge to determine how it's going to play out," Murphy said.
Still, at least publicly, the Packers are optimistic that a deal will be reached and that things were accomplished during the 17 days of mediated talks.
"I think both sides feel like they both understand where each side is coming from a little more than they had before," Wied said. "Pushing closer to agreement shows that there was some progress. Now, it fell back a little bit over the last couple of days and obviously broke down somewhat yesterday. I think the league really does feel that this is a bump in the road. This isn't the end of the game. I think they feel like they did make progress and that they will be able to take advantage of that progress."
Said Murphy: "We're still very far away from (putting the season in jeopardy). We still have a lot of time and hopefully at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail and we'll be able to reach an agreement without any interruption in terms of football games or even training camp."
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