As one of the named plaintiffs in the players’ lawsuit against the owners, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has closely monitored the labor situation. And he traces the current problems to the day the former head of the NFL Players’ Association died.
But Brees doesn’t believe the problem is that Gene Upshaw’s death left the players without a leader. Instead, Brees says the owners perceived that the players were left without a leader, and they thought they could cash in on Upshaw’s passing.
“Ever since Gene Upshaw passed away — I’m just going to lay it all out there — the owners saw blood in the water,” Brees told Jim Trotter of SI.com. “They felt like, ‘This is our opportunity to take a significant piece of the [financial] pie back at all costs, a piece that we will never have to give back again. This is our chance, while they don’t have leadership, while they’re scrambling to find a new executive director. This is our time.’”
It’s incredibly distasteful to think about the owners celebrating the death of a Pro Football Hall of Famer who is one of the most significant figures in NFL history, but Brees believes that that’s how the owners viewed Upshaw’s death: A time when the players weren’t prepared to do anything other than accept what they were offered.
“Their philosophy was, We’re going to give you a very subpar deal, a slap-in-the-face deal, and hope that you’ll accept it because hopefully we’ve intimidated you enough into thinking that this is a take-it-or-leave-it deal, and you’re just going to succumb to the pressure,” Brees said. “Well, guess what. We’re a lot more informed and educated than in the past, and we’re much better businessmen than you think and we’re going to stand up for what is right and what is fair. Fifty-fifty is fair. It’s been fair for the last 20 years and I think the game has done pretty well over the last 20 years. I think franchise values have gone up at a pretty good rate over the last 20 years. So you can’t sit here and tell me that the system is broken.”
The players wanted to keep playing under the deal they negotiated under Upshaw’s leadership, and now that the owners have opted out of that deal, Brees says the players remain united.
“This fight was brought to us, and we feel like we were backed into a corner,” Brees said. “We’re trying to fight our way out of it.”