If NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith ultimately receives a $1 million bonus for his efforts in conjunction with the new labor deal, there’s a chance it could also be a severance payment.
Smith’s contract expires in March. Even if he keeps the job, it won’t happen without a fight.
Multiple sources have informed PFT that the players intend to take a serious look at whether Smith is the right man to lead them into the next decade of labor peace. Though most seem to have an open mind regarding the question of whether Smith should remain in the position now that the labor situation has been resolved, one source says that a group of player representatives intends to ask Smith to not even run for re-election.
Candidates who have been discussed as a possible alternative to Smith include, in no particular order, former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks, NFL Alumni executive director George Martin, agent Tom Condon, sports lawyer and former NFLPA executive director finalist David Cornwell, Colts center Jeff Saturday, and NFLPA in-house counsel Tom DePaso. It’s unknown whether any of these men actually want the job.
In contrast to the long tenure of Gene Upshaw, whose contract renewals were more automatic than an extra point attempt in a domed stadium, Smith’s reappointment will come, if at all, only after a comprehensive debate regarding the full range of his performance on the job. And while Smith has supporters among the Executive Committee and the Board of Player Representatives, he also has vocal detractors among these two key groups who’ll determine whether Smith or someone else runs the union.
Helping Smith is the fact that he successfully stared down the NFL, preventing the owners from rolling back dramatically the percentage of the total revenue that the players traditionally have enjoyed. As to the critical TV deals, which are expected to generate $7 billion per year by 2014, the players will receive 55 cents of every dollar that passes through the cash register.
But Smith has absorbed widespread criticism for his dotting of the i’s and his crossing of the t’s in the 11th hour of the negotiations. In sharp contrast to the 2006 CBA renewal, which featured multiple player-friendly noneconomic terms that the NFLPA slipped past the league while the league was obsessed with issues like cutting up the pie and sharing revenue among the 32 clubs, the 2011 agreement became finalized without sufficient attention being paid to key details, such as the application of the personal conduct policy to players arrested during the lockout, the reintegration of the policy regarding recreational drugs, and the agreement to submit to HGH testing. Most recently, one member of the Executive Committee tactfully, but distinctly, expressed regret regarding the failure of the NFLPA to insist on improved protocols for in-game concussion diagnosis.
Then there’s the question raised by some regarding whether Smith, a former litigator, has the skills — or the desire — to preside over a union that isn’t fighting tooth and nail with management.
Some wonder whether Smith even wants to stay. Smith has faced questions in the past about his long-term goals and ambitions. Some owners believed during the lockout that Smith was hoping to spark a protracted and contentious lockout in order to create the kind of name recognition that would support a run for political office.
Regardless of whether Smith ever has to campaign for Congress or the Senate, Smith finds himself in a slowly boiling campaign for the job he currently holds. At some point soon, he’ll need to make sure that the players know that he indeed intends to try to keep it.
And then he may need to work almost as hard as he did during the lockout to make that happen.