CBA talks: So far, so cordial

New NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith appears to have a cordial relationship with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. So far, the two sides are talking often and hope to get a CBA extension completed before any real damage to the game is done. However, hurdles remain in front of them.

New NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith says open and consistent communication is the key to getting an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement before a lockout or even before the start of free agency in 2010.

So far, Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have been talking early (in the morning) and often.

"We have met a lot. We talk even more. There probably isn't a week where we aren't at least on the phone with each other three or four times a week," said Smith, who said they will talk past midnight and into the early morning hours. "…We have a pretty hard and fast rule that we stay absolutely accessible to each other. I think having a continued dialog is important. It is the only way I know how to do business. I don't care whether it was opposing lawyers or opposing CEOs or opposing CFOs. Everybody has their job. It's never personal for me; it's just business to me. But it seems to me the right way you have to do things is just to engage in dialog and to be open. So I am happy to say that we have that relationship and it's really strong."

That doesn't mean it's all agreeable. Far from it. The NFL owners opted out of the current CBA, claiming that they were giving too much of the revenues to the players because of increased financial risks with new stadium funding. Teams are currently required to spend at least $100 million in player benefits each year, with a salary cap that would allow them to spend roughly 60 percent of the average team revenues in the league. In 2009, the per-team salary cap is $127 million.

"What we have to do is have a relationship between the owners and the players that allows the game to grow and is fair to both parties," Goodell said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week. "And that's what the owners are looking for and the players are looking for. We have a variety of issues that need to be addressed. They will be addressed at the collective bargaining table. But we have an opportunity here to grow our game that will be beneficial for the players today and tomorrow. And for the owners today and tomorrow."

While Goodell says the union has access to the league's financials, Smith countered that he doesn't get a full picture of what teams make and where the money all goes.

"We don't know what their financial conditions are of the teams, because they don't turn over that information. I don't know what increased risk they bear or how those risks have either grown or gotten smaller over time. I don't have a clear understanding about what the profit-loss is per team and no one knows, frankly except for them I guess, what the real rate of return is on that risk/investment over a 10-year period. That's information that the NFL has never turned over," said Smith, who was in Minnesota to talk with Vikings players and media on Tuesday.

Smith and Goodell have both acknowledged that coming to an agreement would benefit more than just the players and owners. They are both respectful that many other Americans count on wages garnered from the league, its teams and its games.

"It seems to me that there are 1,900 men that play this game, that use this game to provide for their families. There are over 100,000 people who work in our stadiums nationwide. The families of the players rely on these jobs to provide for them, not only sustenance, but also their medical care is wrapped up in that as well. We have 10,000 retired players that our vested in our system, whose benefits and disability payments are tied to the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement. So, yeah, there are a lot of issues that we deal with every day, but there is no issue that is more pressing to me than the possibility of a lockout, because I understand that," Smith said.

Still, he is hopeful an agreement will be reached before a lockout is imminent for the 2011 season. The reason for his hope goes back to the open lines of communication that he and Goodell have established.

"I think that our ability to talk to each other is probably one of the single-most defining factors that gives me that level of confidence. I am also confident because it seems to me that when you think about state and local governments who have given hundreds of millions of dollars to owners and teams to build stadiums and each and every one of those dollars is predicated on job creation and job substance, it seems to me that a lockout would be betraying that agreement," Smith said. "When we do look and see ourselves that we are in a tough economic situation – you guys probably see it better than the players – the people who are pushing (hot) dogs and selling beers, and parking cars on a cold day in Minnesota, for most of those people that is probably their third and their fourth job. … In this economy, in some jurisdictions, this year and next year, that third or fourth job is going to mean (the difference between having) light and heat for some people. So when I take the fact that (Goodell and I) can talk, that I know that the state and local governments care about this issue, that it would be disastrous for people to lose those game checks, am I confident that we are going to get there? Yeah, because I think everybody cares."

So far, the public relationship between Smith and Goodell appears to be cordial. They have made television appearances together and both set up the arguments for their sides while maintaining public respect for each other.

That's possible, Smith said, because of their mutual respect for the game.

"He is a man who loves the sport," Smith said of Goodell. "We are both passionate about what we do. I think that is a good thing. When you both have a healthy respect for what each other has to do on a day-to-day basis, and at the same time you both love the sport, and both love the business of the game, and you love the men, then it's all good."

For now.

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