Earlier this year, before the NFL and the players began the process of finding a middle ground (after trading middle fingers) and working their way toward a new labor deal, a couple of owners were the subject of reports regarding potentially polarizing conduct during negotiations. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reportedly disrespected Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning during a pre-Super Bowl session. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly used some tough talk and then made some sort of hand gesture during a meeting in Washington, at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
While talking with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during Thursday’s PFT Live, I stumbled across another situation that arose earlier this year. Though Smith was guarded in his words, it was clear based on a couple of questions regarding the role of former player and current Packers president Mark Murphy that the players have a high degree of animosity toward Murphy. So, after the show, I started snooping around. (I bought one of those really big magnifying glasses at the dollar store.)
Per multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the players handling the negotiations prior to the lockout became significantly angered by comments made by Murphy on the Freakonomics podcast regarding retired players.
Said Murphy: “You know, right now our current players if they’re vested, and you vest if you play three or more seasons, you get health insurance coverage for five years, which is great. But I look at it, too, and the transition for players from playing in the NFL to finding another career and establishing themselves is very difficult, and I really wonder, sometimes, if we do too much for the players. They’ve got severance pay and a 401(k) plan. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes it’s not all bad, and going back and talking to some of the players who played for [Vince] Lombardi in the ’60s — you know, they worked in the off-seasons, and they made a very smooth transition into their second careers because they had to. And so I’m a little worried that if we do too much for players in terms of compensation after their career’s end, and health insurance — it’s not all bad to have an incentive to get a job. And, so those are just some of the things we’re thinking through and talking through.”
The comments, we’re told, made former NFL linebacker Cornelius Bennett, a non-voting member of the NFLPA Executive Committee, livid. According to the sources, some of the players thereafter didn’t even want to be in the same room with Murphy. Said one source, “It was very real. It could have gotten ugly.”
When players-and-owners-only talks began in May, the sources say that the players asked Murphy to be excluded. And he was indeed absent from the process, until the very end when nine of the 10 members of the league’s labor committee participated in the final stage of face-to-face talks.
It all subsided until recently, when Murphy was interviewed by Tony Walter of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Though the full article seems to be fairly tame, the players interpreted it as an effort by Murphy to claim partial credit for getting the deal done, when in reality the belief from the NFLPA side of the table is that Murphy was counterproductive. And that stirred up emotions that had flared before the lockout.
The Packers, through spokesman Aaron Popkey, declined to provide a comment.
It’s possible that the players’ complaints are simply part of the inherently contentious bargaining process. Murphy was involved in two 1980s strikes as a player, and he had the unique perspective of former player and current owner. Which made Murphy’s words potentially more persuasive to the players involved in the talks.
And so perhaps for the same reason the owners hated NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, the players didn’t like Murphy. Perhaps both were despised because their opponents because they were effective.
Regardless, while it appears that the players have no hard feelings in the wake of the 10-year labor deal toward Jerry Jones and Jerry Richardson, the same can’t be said for their feelings about Mark Murphy.