As his legacy suffers from the perception that he urged NFL owners to take what turned out to be a bad deal so that he could stick to his retirement timetable, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue recently told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement never was intended to last.
“We knew it’d be terminated at the earliest possible date,” Tagliabue said. “We knew it wasn’t sustainable long-term.”
The owners indeed opted out barely two years after the deal was signed, exercising their prerogative in May 2008 to cancel the deal after the 2010 season.
Tagliabue contends that former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, who died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer in August 2008, knew the deal would be ended prematurely, implying that Upshaw “understood the owners would need some relief from the deal if it became too one-sided for the players.” Even though Upshaw isn’t around to refute or confirm that claim, key lieutenants like NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler surely were privy to Upshaw’s thinking.
If Berthelsen and Kessler are sharing with current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith the notion that the deal would be adjusted if necessary, Smith isn’t listening.
Then again, current Commissioner Roger Goodell also was working at the elbow of Tagliabue when the last deal went down. If Goodell believed that it was accepted that the players would adjust the deal, Goodell would most likely be saying so.
We’re not saying (or suggesting) that Tagliabue is fudging the truth. But his own interests and agenda easily could be clouding the lens through which he recalls the things that were or weren’t said five years ago.