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Ten more things to know, right now, about the labor situation

Jeff Pash, Roger Goodell

On three prior occasions, we’ve provided a snapshot of the labor dispute by pressing pause and taking a look at 10 issues and/or dynamics arising from the situation.

Though the latest look came only four days ago, enough has changed since Friday to justify a fresh assessment of the situation.

1.  Brace yourself for another possible extension.

As of Friday, when the two sides had agreed to a 24-hour extension of the expiration of the labor deal and then agreed on a seven-day extension, the prevailing thought was that the deal would get done, if at all, before the following Friday.  Now, there’s talk (as Ross Tucker of Sirius NFL Radio pointed out during a Tuesday visit with PFT Live) of another extension.

Though most NFL observers would prefer that the two sides reach an agreement not on an extension but on an agreement, the next best thing to a full-blown deal is more time to reach one.  Of course, they likely wouldn’t need it if they’d spent more time last week at the bargaining table — and if they’d devoted more than four hours Monday to the negotiations.

At some point, the extensions will have to end.  For now, though, it continues to make sense to keep talking.  Especially since the alternative remains litigating.

2.  The lockout already has started.

In January, NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman explained that the league’s options as of March 4 were simple — lock out the players or declare impasse and impose the terms of the last, best offer.  The other alternative, of course, was to extend the deadline so that talks can continue.  And that’s precisely what happened.

So what’s really going on right now?  As best we can tell, it’s a lockout without a lockout being declared.

March 4 has come and gone, and free agency hasn’t started.  All business has come to a halt.

Yes, the lockout has begun.  The only thing that has been delayed is the date on which the storm of litigation may commence.

3.  League, union need to reach a deal on financial information.

The league and the union continue to stare at each other regarding the question of whether the books will be opened.  Despite optimism that an agreement regarding financial disclosure will be made, multiple reports indicate that the union wants audited financial statements, and that the league will give only more limited information regarding profits.

For months, we believed that the union should drop its persistent request for financial information because the NFL never would open the books, and because the union had no vehicle for forcing them to do so.  In the wake of last week’s ruling in the “lockout insurance” case, however, we realized that the NFLPA can’t — and shouldn’t — accept the league’s claims regarding reduced profits and other financial challenges at face value.

Really, how can the league justify demanding financial concessions in the absence of proof that concessions are necessary?  If the numbers support the league’s position, the union will realize that.  If the union chooses to scoff at the numbers or otherwise refuse to acknowledge their validity, then the union will bear the blame for the deal not being finalized.

The challenge becomes identifying the specific amount of information that needs to be disclosed.  Do the players need complete, audited financial statements, or is something less than that necessary.  Whether the parties can reach an accord on this point will determine whether they can strike a broader deal.

4.  League needs to be sure the owners don’t see the numbers.

Given the manner in which NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith scoffed at significant reductions in the Packers’ profits (Green Bay is publicly traded, making their financial information available by law), the league surely is concerned that nothing the union sees will persuade the union to make financial concessions.  Moreover, the owners likely aren’t thrilled with the prospect of having the NFLPA micromanage expenditures made by the various teams, especially if the records show six-figure salaries being paid to family members who make only cameo appearances in the workplace.

But there’s a bigger problem.  As we’ve mentioned more than a few times over the past few years, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones doesn’t want Patriots owner Robert Kraft to know how much money Jones is making, and how he’s spending it.  In turn, Kraft doesn’t want Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to know Kraft’s business.  And Snyder doesn’t want Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to know Snyder’s business.  And so on.

It’s more than petty rivalries and jealousies.  When it comes to the issue of revenue sharing, proof that certain low-earning teams are highly profitable undermines the case for revamping the current system.  Thus, once the books are open, steps must be taken to ensure that each owner doesn’t get his hands on the financial information relating to the other 31 teams.

5.  The union makes a wise P.R. move on financials.

Isn’t it odd that reports have emerged regarding the union’s retention of auditors and other financial experts to assess financial information that the league has yet to agree to provide?  It’s definitely odd, and it may be brilliant.

With the owners still reluctant to surrender comprehensive financial information, there’s nothing like a little old-fashioned public pressure to get them to finally do it.  And so with the union now ready to receive and analyze the information and with the public now assuming that the information will be coming, the league has two choices — give the information or risk the P.R. fallout that comes from continuing to insist on givebacks without giving any financial data to the union.

If that’s what the union is doing, there’s a chance that the tactic could backfire.  But with the NFL apparently reluctant to see the litigation option unfold, the risk of the worst-case scenario could be low — and the reward will be great, if the financial information is provided.

For now, the reward is limited.  NFL Network and the Associated Press have reported that Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the Executive Committee, said the information provided to date “hasn’t been sufficient,” and Colts center Jeff Saturday, another member of the Executive Committee, said that the outside experts would “judge how help the material” the NFL is offering would be.

Thus, more information is coming.  The question is whether it will be enough.

6.  Whatever happened to the vow of silence?

The union’s announcement of the hiring of a firm to review financial information and the decision of members of the Executive Committee to comment publicly on the financial information that has been or will be disclosed represents the clearest proof yet that the vow of silence taken by both sides at the outset of mediation has gone out the window.

The cracks first appeared last week, when reports began to emerge regarding the dynamics in the room at mediation.  Clearly, someone has been talking, whether on the league side, the union side, or both.

To date, the parties have refrained for disclosing many specifics regarding the issues that the parties are tackling.  With the exception of multiple reports pegging the financial divide at $750 million to $800 million per year, there hasn’t been anything specific.

Still, one or both of the parties has violated mediator George Cohen’s directive, and we’ve got a feeling it will only get worse as further progress toward a deal is made.

7.  18 games could still be coming.

When the league identified an 18-game regular season as the primary tool for growing the pie after shrinking the union’s cut of it, the proposal didn’t quite have its intended impact.  Plenty of players spoke out about the idea, and the league has struggled to reconcile in persuasive fashion a desire to grow the pie with the task of enhancing player safety.

Given the estimates of $500 million per year flowing from a shift in the season from four preseason games and 16 regular-season games to two and 18, there’s a growing sense that 18 eventually will happen.  But the union should insist on real reductions in contact during the offseason, training camp, preseason, and in-season practice, while still permitting enough contact to allow the wheat to be separated from the weaklings.

The union also should push the league to find other ways to expand the pie, including the marketing of a full-season Thursday night package, the addition of two teams per conference to the playoff field (and in turn the elimination of the postseason bye), and expansion, not relocation, by two teams in Los Angeles, along with the $2 billion in new money that would go along with it.

8.  Litigation wouldn’t necessarily delay the start of the season.

Some believe that decertification by the union and the storm of litigation that would go along with it inevitably would prevent the season from starting on time.  We see it differently.

Promptly upon decertifying, the union would file a motion to prevent the league from locking out a non-union workforce.  Since the NFL doesn’t consist of one business but 32 separate ones, the league would be committing a clear violation of antitrust law by deciding collectively to shut down.  It’s an easy decision for a court to reach, and it would be a shock if the league is permitted to proceed with this specific type of a lockout.

Though it’s possible that the appeals process could linger into September or beyond, the injunction preventing the league from locking out a non-union workforce would likely remain in effect pending appeal (as in the StarCaps case), which means that football would continue while the other legal skirmishes play out.

In other words, litigation may not be so bad for the fans, after all.

9.  The league should consider a world without rules.

The decertification strategy, if successful, eventually would force the NFL’s franchises to impose common rules for the draft, free agency, salary cap, and other player acquisition and retention devices.  Once the league’s team adopt such measures, the stage would be set for an antitrust action challenging the decision of 32 businesses to apply across-the-board rules.

But what if the league decides to let the 32 separate businesses operate that way?  There would be no draft; NFL teams would recruit players like colleges do.  Players would sign contracts and become free agents once those contracts expire.  With no minimum salaries, owners could pay as much — or as little — as they want for any and all players, limited only by the minimum wage.

The question becomes whether such an approach would screw up the competitive balance of the league.  When considering that several franchises hovering well below what would have been the salary floor for 2010 had successful seasons, teams may realize that overspending for a football team carries little or no guarantee of success on the field.

Though the league surely would never do it, a commitment to the same fiscal discipline that was seen in 2010 would prevent a situation in which only a handful of teams have a chance of winning the Super Bowl — and in which a handful of franchises would never be competitive.

10.  Squeezing the spread between the cap and the floor could help.

Despite the fact that the absence of a salary cap and a salary floor prompted most teams to tighten the belt (and, in turn, to use the money not spent on players as a partial lockout fund), it’s likely that a salary cap will return — along with a salary floor.

And when the cap and the floor return, one way to ensure that the players get as much of their slice of the pie was possible will be to shrink the spread between the spending minimum and the spending maximum.

Prior to 2006, teams consistently found themselves bumping up against the maximum, often using the concept of “cash over cap” to spend more than the limit in a given year, and to pay the piper later.  From 2006 to 2009, fewer and fewer teams had cap issues, and more moved toward the spending minimum.

Pulling the top and the bottom together will result in fewer teams cutting corners, and it will place more money in the players’ pockets.

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Top of NFL draft well represented at Auburn Pro Day

BCS Championship Football

With a national championship team featuring quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Auburn is sending a lot of talent to the NFL this year, including, potentially, two of the first five players off the board.

So it’s no surprise that many of the key decision-makers on the teams with the highest draft picks were in attendance at Auburn’s Pro Day today.

Darin Gantt of the Charlotte Observer reports that those in attendance today included Carolina coach Ron Rivera, Denver coach John Fox and executive vice president John Elway, Buffalo G.M. Buddy Nix, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur and G.M. Tom Heckert. That means every team with a Top 6 pick sent either its head coach, its general manager or both.

All indications are that Newton looked better throwing today than he had at the Combine, and that Fairley had a good day as well.

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Pierce: Tiki won’t add any leadership to next team

A. Pierce2

Antonio Pierce says teams looking at Tiki Barber shouldn’t expect his former teammate to be a leader.

“Tiki Barber, the football player, great player, will be very productive probably in certain situations,” Pierce said on NFL Live Tuesday via ESPNNewYork.com.  “Tiki Barber, the leader, the person in that locker room? He is not going to do anything for your team.  Now if that is the guy you think you are bringing in, you might want to look in another direction.”

Pierce was hardly the only Giants teammate of Barber — especially on the defensive side — to have a problem with the running back.   He raises a fair point.

At his age, Barber would be a role player.  Backup running backs that don’t play special teams need to offer some extra value — like leadership.   Pierce doesn’t think that will happen.

“From personal experience, he didn’t do anything to help the Giants [in] 2006 when he decided to retire in the middle of the season and then months later question our quarterback and our head coach,” Pierce said.   “That is my problem with Tiki Barber … the guy can play. Can he do it four years later? I don’t think he can.”

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Despite vocal support for Orton, Tebow still looks like Broncos’ starter

Tebow1

Broncos coach John Fox and front office boss John Elway both say that right now, Kyle Orton is their starting quarterback.

But as Mike Klis of the Denver Post points out, right now there’s no football being played. And Klis writes that the indications out of Denver are that when football is being played, Tim Tebow will be the Broncos’ starting quarterback.

According to Klis, Orton’s only real hope of being the starter in Week One is if there’s a work stoppage lasting long enough that NFL training camps are shortened. In that situation, Fox might feel like he has no choice to go with the experienced Orton over the untested Tebow.

If a deal gets done soon enough that the Broncos have close to a full offseason to install their offense, however, Tebow would probably start — and the Broncos would probably try to trade Orton.

So if a deal between the owners and the players’ union gets done soon, that deal will likely lead to the end of the Orton era in Denver.

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Ryan Mallett’s arm continues to impress

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Ohio State v Arkansas Getty Images

Today’s Arkansas Pro Day confirmed what everyone already knew about Ryan Mallett: He runs like an offensive lineman, and he throws like Nolan Ryan.

Bucky Brooks of NFL Network described Mallett as “absolutely sensational” during today’s workout, saying he easily makes every throw. According to Brooks, scouts and coaches in attendance were comparing Mallett to a couple of Hall of Fame pocket passers, Dan Fouts and Dan Marino.

And unlike many of this year’s other quarterback prospects, Mallett has experience making three-, five- and seven-step drops in a pro-style offense in college. That’s why NFL Network’s Mike Mayock calls Mallett the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft.

There are character questions about Mallett, and his plodding 40-yard dash time may have some teams wondering whether his lack of athleticism could hold him back in the NFL. But there’s no question that his arm is incredible.

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Cam Newton goes 50-for-60 at Tuesday Pro Day

Auburn quarterback Newton runs the ball against Oregon in the fourth quarter of the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in Glendale, Arizona

At 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Cam Newton finally took the field for passing drills at Auburn’s Pro Day.

The results were mixed.

Newton connected on 50-of-60 passes, which is a substandard “completion percentage” for an elite quarterback prospect at an on-campus workout. For comparison, Matt Ryan was 48-of-52 at Boston College’s Pro Day in 2008, and Sam Bradford went 49-for-50 last March.

Watching the entire workout, PFT counted three blatant drops. Two or three more of Newton’s incompletions hit his receiver in the hands, but would’ve been difficult to secure.

There were four bad overthrows on which Newton either simply threw the football way too far downfield for his target to have a chance, or his pass sailed much too high.

It’s worth noting that immediately after Newton’s 60 throws, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt personally put the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner through more under-center drills and was spotted shaking Newton’s hand.

By no measure was this Pro Day outstanding. CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang gave Newton a “B,” conceding that he “would’ve given Newton a ‘D’” for his Combine workout. SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline rated Newton’s workout “solid, not spectacular.”

Still, the general consensus is that Newton has made major strides since the Combine. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock had the most glowing review of Tuesday’s Pro Day.

“This kid can drive the football,” said Mayock. “He can drive it on the deep, outbreaking comeback, he can drive it on the inbreaking Bang-8 or dig route.

“He can make every throw.”

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Tiki Barber’s trainer raves, but Bucs’ interest is lukewarm

Raheem Morris

Tiki Barber is preparing to return to the NFL, and the New York Giants will free him to sign where ever he wants. The early indications are that Barber wants to play alongside his brother Ronde in Tampa Bay, although the Bucs may not be interested.

Joe Carini, Tiki’s longtime trainer, told Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger that Tiki is in great shape and will absolutely be able to play in the NFL this year at the age of 36.

I’m telling you, he’s ready to go,” Carini said.

So where is Barber ready to go to?

“He did mention maybe possibly going down to Tampa by his brother, which would make sense,” Carini said. “The whole thing is this: I don’t know if anybody’s going to say, ‘Hey Tiki, you’re going to be the feature back, maybe the third-down back, a situational guy.’ But who’s to say? If he gets with the right team, I’m going to be getting him in shape.”

It sounds like the Bucs’ interest, however, is lukewarm. Bucs coach Raheem Morris (who can’t really say much about Tiki until he’s officially been cut free by the Giants) seems only lukewarm in his interest in having both Barber brothers on his team.

“He’s one of those guys who doesn’t know when he’s going to run out of gas,” Morris said of Tiki, per Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times. “It happens to all of us. It happens to the best of us. But if he’s got a little bit left, I encourage him to doing it. Highly. You know me, we always discuss those guys who can help us. Obviously, we haven’t been going in that direction and coming off the layoff and all that stuff and where it’s going to go, where our young football team is, I don’t know if we have the ability to do that. I’m sure he can help someone, if not us, if it ever came to that.”

So Morris isn’t going to write Tiki off, but the Barber brothers playing together for the first time in the NFL probably isn’t going to happen.

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Tampering season starts with Mike Sims-Walker

M. Sims-Walker1

According to one Florida writer, the Rams and Texans have already contacted prospective free agent wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker to signal their interest in him.

The only problem?  Sims-Walker isn’t a free agent yet and any contact with him or his agent clearly violates tampering rules.

Charlie Bernstein, who writes for FoxSportsFlorida.com and JagNation.com, passed along the info on Sims-Walker.  It sounds like the type of report that originates with a player or agent hoping to stir up interest.

In this case, the news may only stir up questions as to why St. Louis and Houston have spoken with Sims-Walker before they are allowed to.

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Seymour’s deal is a pair of one-year $15 million deals

r-seymour2

The Raiders last month gave defensive lineman Richard Seymour a two-year, $30 million contract.  That part is accurate.

The deal widely was reported as having $22.5 million guaranteed.  That part was less accurate.

Per a league source, only $15 million was fully guaranteed upon signing.  That guarantee comes in the form of a guaranteed base salary of $15 million.

The other $7.5 million in guaranteed money is guaranteed for injury only.  On the fifth day of the 2012 league year, the amount becomes fully guaranteed.  The deal also carries a $7.5 million roster bonus that becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2012 league year.

Thus, Seymour signed a one-year, $15 million deal, and he gave the Raiders an exclusive option on a second one-year, $15 million deal.  He’ll get $22.5 million guaranteed only if he suffers a catastrophic injury in 2011.

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Vinny Cerrato: Jim Zorn ruined by ego, becoming a celebrity

V. Cerrato

More than a decade in the public spotlight hasn’t made former Redskins executive Vinny Cerrato any more self aware.

Asked on the Mike Wise Show Tuesday to discuss former coach Jim Zorn’s downfall as Redskins coach, Cerrato blamed Zorn’s ego.

“Lookit, when we started out, we’re 6-2 and the guy’s doing a good job.  But then I think ego got into play and then he stopped listening to coaches, became a celebrity. I mean, that’s when Rush Limbaugh’s on the sideline, he had all these people on the sideline. Give me a break,” Cerrato said via Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Bog.

“Just worry about Clinton Portis, Chris Samuels.  Worry about the next team. To me, that’s what happened.”

The host of the Vinny Cerrato radio show blaming Washington’s downfall on Zorn’s ego is stupefying.  It would be like if Dan Snyder made fun of another owner for free agent spending.

There are so many other reasons the Redskins failed under Zorn, and most of them lead directly back to Cerrato’s decision making.  (Including the decision to hire Zorn.)

In Cerrato’s view, Zorn’s handling of the media was another crucial ingredient.

“When you talk to the media, you can’t tell them everything,” Cerrato said.   “You know, he wanted to tell them everything. I think Jim’s downfall was when he went on and started ripping the players, Chris Samuels, and saying it on air. You lose the team. They say bye bye.”

These comments reflect poorly on Cerrato, not only because they are classless and attempting to shift blame elsewhere.

They also indicate Cerrato still doesn’t understand what actually contributes to wins and losses in the NFL.

UPDATE: More quotes from Cerrato, courtesy of CSNWashington.com.

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Union hires firm to review financial information from the league

AP I MEX Mexico Money Found AP

The NFL still hasn’t agreed to surrender financial information to the players’ union.  But the move is expected, and the NFLPA is now prepared for it.

Per multiple reports, the union has hired International Investment Bank to review any financial information the league discloses.

Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that an auditor the union “has used for years” arrived at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service at 3:00 p.m.

Again, the information hasn’t been disclosed.  But the union is getting its ducks in a row in the event that an opportunity comes to count the league’s eggs.

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PFT Live: Tucker not optimistic about labor negotiations

Sirius NFL Radio’s Ross Tucker isn’t optimistic about a deal being reached soon, discusses his perspective on the labor situation as a former NFL player, disagrees with Mike Florio over keeping a salary cap and minimum and more in the final segment of today’s PFT Live.

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PFT Live: Taylor losing weight and working hard

Former Baylor DT Phil Taylor thinks his draft prospect is rising because of the hard work he’s putting in, believes losing weight has helped him a lot, talks about his transition from Penn State to Baylor and more in the second segment of Tuesday’s PFT Live.

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Ron Rivera pays Newton special attention at Pro Day

Rivera Newton Pic

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is not expected to commence passing drills for a few hours. But we’ve been watching coverage of the Tigers’ Pro Day since it began at 1:30, and couldn’t help but notice Panthers coach Ron Rivera hovering over Newton at multiple points during the proceedings.

Newton is in a backpack and sweats, and Rivera is in sunglasses and jeans. The two could be seen joking, laughing, and having extensive conversations while Newton’s college teammates participated in drills.

(Special thanks to the Rock Hill Herald‘s Darin Gantt for the above pic.)

Rivera and Newton are obviously on cordial terms, which should only fuel belief that Newton is going to be the Panthers’ pick at No. 1 in the draft. Rivera made it a point to be around Newton frequently on Tuesday.

Another notable nugget from Auburn’s Pro Day: Defensive tackle Nick Fairley skipped the bench press. Fairley also skipped the bench at the Combine, allegedly due to a shoulder injury.

Whether that shoulder injury has lingered is unconfirmed.

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PFT Live: What’s next for Vince Young?

In the first segment of Tuesday’s PFT Live, Mike Florio wonders what Vince Young’s NFL future holds, thinks it’s good news that Clark Hunt will be involved in the labor negotiations and believes California Governor Jerry Brown’s insistence on stadium-building being funded privately helps the league justify keeping its books closed.

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