It has been a very interesting few days listening to and trying to absorb what we have been hearing about NFL labor negotiations from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. In case you missed them, Goodell held an audience with SB Nation football writers on Thursday afternoon of last week, and Smith then made himself available for a call with SB Nation's Joel Thorman on Friday morning.
Joel has already posted his five things he took away from the conversations with both Goodell and Smith. He is on the mark in many of his points, especially about the personality differences between the commissioner and the NFLPA's top man. He is also right, I think, that each is probably an excellent representative for their constituencies.
I would like to add a few of my own thoughts to Joel's earlier post. These are things I took away from listening to both interviews, and from listening to Smith today when he appeared on Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio.
Goodell and Smith don't trust each other. I was going to write 'don't like each other,' but I have never been in a room with them to feel the dynamics between the two men. It is pretty obvious, though, that there really isn't a solid working relationship between the two men most responsible for getting a deal done.
Goodell says the NFL has offered the players a deal "we think is responsible, that meets what the players are looking for and what the clubs are looking for." Smith called that offer "the worst deal in the history of sports." Some of that is public posturing by the two men, but you can sense in their voices the frustration with their counterparts.
Smith and NFL lead negotiation Jeff Pash do not like each other. I have no qualms putting that out there. You don't exactly have to read between the lines of Smith's statement that Pash has a 'casual relationship with the truth' to figure that out.
Pash is right, seemingly, that for Smith the money is pretty much the only thing. Here is what Pash said during Thursday's conference call.
Late Friday afternoon in responding to the comprehensive proposal we had made to them, they didn't want to talk about anything other than what the cap numbers were. They didn't want to talk about the healthy and safety improvements. They didn't want to talk about the rookie system. They didn't want to talk about benefits. They didn't want to talk about improved pensions for retired players. They didn't want to talk about the drug program or the steroid program. They didn't want to talk about disciplinary matters. The only thing they wanted to talk about was the cap number."
When Smith spoke to Thorman on Friday, a call many SB Nation football writers got to listen to, he never strayed from the topic of money. In fairness, Smith did argue that the league made an all-or-nothing offer where the players had to accept or reject it in its entirety, rather than what he called an "a la carte" offer where the players could accept pieces they liked and reject others.
Smith will use whatever he has to in order to sway opinion. I have had the opportunity to interview NFL Alumni Executive Director George Martin a couple of times, and Martin has consistently made the point that Smith and the NFLPA will not give the Alumni Association the time of day. Yet, during his appearance with Florio today, Smith made consistent references to the health and welfare of currently retired players who are currently struggling. If he was sincere in that, he would be working with Martin and not stonewalling him.
There might be negotiations before April 6. That is the date when the lawsuit the players have filed seeking an injunction to lift the lockout will be heard. Smith, however, said he has sent a letter to the NFL reminding the league that they can still negotiation while the suit is pending.
"I think that the most important way we can move forward is we can sit down as businessmen and . . . deal with the lawsuit that is pending, and if both sides want to sit down and have civil, informative, and mutual conversations where we exchange relevant information, isn’t that the way we make sure football is played?" Smith said. "Isn’t that a way to make sure the owners’ interest are served? Isn’t that a way to make sure the players’ and fans’ interest are served?"
If Smith really meant those words, that is good to hear. Right now, though, how can anybody be sure what to believe? When it comes to the labor negotiations, we have heard way too much talk -- most of it just going in circles -- and not seen enough actual give and take that might get a deal done.