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Conduct policy more about P.R. than fairness

Executive director of the NFL Players Association Smith and NFL Commissioner Goodell speak outside the NFL Players Association Headquarters in Washington Reuters

So why was Commissioner Roger Goodell adamant regarding the retention of his exclusive control over the league’s personal conduct policy?

It’s because, in my opinion, the conduct policy has more to do with P.R. and less to do with creating a fair, balanced, and consistent system of justice.

Though many people believe that having a big name secures favorable treatment, the opposite is true when it comes to getting in trouble with the NFL.  The bigger the name, the more likely a punishment will be imposed, because the misadventures of the most popular players create the greatest embarrassment for the league.

How else can anyone reconcile the fact that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games despite never been arrested or charged for sexual assault, and yet Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox continues to practice and play despite facing two years to life based on specific, detailed, and troubling allegations that he raped and impregnated a woman who had passed out at his apartment?

If Roethlisberger had allegedly done what Cox had allegedly done, the lockout wouldn’t have ended.  For Roethlisberger.

For more on the issue, check out the opening segment of Thursday’s PFT Live.

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Jake Scott calls HGH testing a “witch hunt”

scott-jake_584 Getty Images

The recently finalized CBA reportedly includes authority to conduct HGH testing.  And that’s not sitting well with one of the NFLPA’s player representatives.

Titans guard Jake Scott calls the process a “witch hunt,” according to Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com.

“[The owners have] wanted that all along, clear back to February or March, to do HGH testing,” Scott said.  “That’s a no-go for us.  If they’re still holding to that, I can see that being a problem.”

Actually, it’s no longer a problem because the CBA has been ratified.  And it reportedly includes authorization to conduct HGH testing.

“There’s only one test, and it’s a hoax,” Scott said.  “We’re not going for that.  We’re not going to turn this into a witch hunt for some independent company to make profits off of.  We’re not gonna do that to our players.”

Scott raises a valid point.  “I would question the motives of any company that is testing for profit, that is operating a for-profit business.  Their incentive is to catch people,” Scott said. “That’s their incentive — is to catch people, and if they don’t catch anybody, nobody thinks their tests works.  There’s a conflict of interest there.”

Apparently, while the authority to conduct HGH testing is contained in the CBA, work still must be done as to the specific of testing.  “It’s still under negotiation,” Scott said, via John Glennon of the Tennessean.  “We have a say as a union.  We have to agree to the test, the testing procedure, the testing company.  We’re willing to do it if they find a test that’s proven accurate and it’s administered in a way we deem acceptable to our players.”

So maybe it’s not as done of a done deal as we’ve been led to believe.

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NFL locks up its lockout website

NFL Lockout Looms As Negotiations Are Extended Getty Images

With a new CBA finally ratified, the NFL’s first order of business was . . . .

To shut down the labor propaganda website launched in conjunction with the run up to the lockout.

In a final posting at NFLLabor.com, the website bids adieu, “for at least 10 years.”

The fact that the site won’t remain active for the purposes of posting periodic news regarding matters like the application of the new CBA and the resolution of the inevitable disputes that will arise regarding its terms confirms that the goal of the site was to push the league’s position on issues regarding the work stoppage.

Meanwhile, NFLLockout.com (the players’ answer to NFLLabor.com) remains active, with no new postings since July 26.  The NFLPA website has been resurrected, but for now it has no publicly-available information.

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HGH testing part of new CBA; testing expected to begin this season

muscle

The announcement regarding the official ratification of the CBA should come any minute.

That CBA will include a major victory for the league: blood testing of HGH for NFL players. Judy Battista of the New York Times reports HGH testing is in the agreement. There will be random, annual testing.  The goal is for testing to start at the beginning of the season.

It’s a great victory for the league, but ultimately drug testing is more about public relations than anything else. The drug makers are always way ahead of the drug testers, and HGH is relatively old news in the performance enhancement field for top athletes.

Still, the NFL deserves kudos for being the first U.S. league to institute the testing. Getting the union to agree to blood testing will make it a lot easier to test for any substance in the future.

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Report: Goodell will retain full control over conduct policy under new CBA

Carolina Panthers Training Camp Getty Images

Commissioner Roger Goodell dug in his heels regarding his ability to have full control over all discipline imposed, or not imposed, under the personal conduct policy.

He’ll reportedly get what he wants.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Goodell will keep that power under the new CBA.

It’s not yet known why the NFLPA caved on the reasonable and fair position that some outside entity should have the ability to review Goodell’s decisions.  The fact that the policy actually impacts only a handful of players every year probably influenced the outcome.  If the NFLPA could trade a concession from the league that helps all players for a provision that impacts not many at all, maybe that was a good deal.

That said, I think I’ve finally figured out why Goodell wants to maintain exclusive control over the policy.  And I’ll share it during the opening segment of today’s PFT Live.

There’s a name for that device in the broadcasting industry.  I’ll tell you what that name is in segment three of today’s PFT Live.

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Report: NFL, NFLPA work out final details of new CBA

Goodell_Smith AP

Though it’s not clear who blinked on the question of whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will retain exclusive control over the league’s personal conduct policy, it’s clear that something happened to push the matter to a resolution.

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com reports that, late Wednesday night, the NFL and the NFLPA worked out the last remaining details of the new CBA.

Next up, the NFLPA representatives will explain the terms to players, who’ll vote at camp on Thursday.  Once at least 50 percent plus one of the players vote in favor of the deal, everyone will be able to practice as of 4:00 p.m. ET.

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Goodell talks about his unwillingness to give up control over conduct policy

Carolina Panthers Training Camp Getty Images

In an item posted earlier today, we explained that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s refusal to allow an outside entity to review the discipline imposed by him under the personal conduct policy had become the biggest remaining issue in the nearly-completed CBA talks.

Appearing at Panthers camp, Goodell talked about the stranglehold he plans to maintain over the policy.

Asked whether he’d be willing to permit some external body review his decisions, Goodell said (per Steve Reed of CarolinaGrowl.com), “The answer to that is no, I’m not going to be open to that.  I’m not going to hand off the brand and the reputation of the NFL to somebody who is not associated with the NFL.  I promise you that.  That is one of the number one jobs as a commissioner in my opinion.”

Goodell then explained that his viewpoint isn’t necessarily popular with the teams that employ him.

“Mr. Richardson doesn’t like this because he’s my boss, one of 32, but I have disciplinary power over them and have had the unfortunate experience of fining him too, by the way,” Goodell said.

Reed reports that Richardson then held up two fingers and said, “Yes, twice.”

The players don’t seem to be as charitable, and if someone doesn’t blink it’ll be even longer until new players can get on the field.

For now, it’s unlikely that Goodell will be the one blinking.

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Source: Goodell refuses to yield authority over personal conduct policy

Roger Goodell, Robert Kraft AP

As the deadline for getting the CBA completed in order to allow free agents to participate in practice on Thursday inches closer and closer, a source with knowledge of the dynamics of the discussions tells us that one issue has emerged as the source of a potential impasse.

Per the source, Commissioner Roger Goodell refuses to surrender full control of the league’s personal conduct policy.

Since inception of the rule that exposes players and other team and league employees to discipline for off-field conduct, regardless of whether an arrest or conviction arises, Goodell has had the ability both to impose a penalty and to preside over the appeals process.  Though former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw willingly gave Goodell that power, the players generally have decided after several years of incidents and enforcements that they want someone other than Goodell or an employee of the league office to have final say over each and every fine or suspension imposed.

But Goodell won’t yield, despite the loud objections of the recently-reconstituted NFLPA.  As the source explains it, it’s perceived that Goodell views the personal conduct policy as “his baby,” and that he doesn’t want to yield in any way the exclusive ability to mete out punishment.

Though we’re a very long way from a return of the lockout, the two sides need to find a way out of this maze in order to let the League Year begin.  At some point, owners (who currently are working on getting their teams ready on a compressed basis for the 2011 season) may need to get involved.

If they do, there’s no guarantee that owners will back Goodell.  We’re told that teams generally don’t care about the personal conduct policy, and that many teams would prefer to have the ability to decide on their own whether and to what extent a player who gets in trouble away from work should be in trouble at work.

Regardless of how it turns out, that’s the main issue preventing this thing from finally getting done.

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NFL, NFLPA continue to work toward completing CBA

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell listens to remarks outside the NFL Players Association Headquarters in Washington Reuters

Steelers safety and NFLPA representative Ryan Clark sounded an unexpected alarm on Wednesday regarding the completion of the new CBA.  Clark said that the deal may not be done in time for players who signed new or restructured contracts to practice on Thursday.

Clark blamed the delay on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s stance on player discipline.

Still, a subsequent Associated Press report paints a slightly more optimistic picture.  Per Barry Wilner of the Associated Press, Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie said it’s “looking very optimistic” that the deal will be done on time.

Clark echoed his Debbie Downer disposition to Wilner:  “De Smith is still working, and we’re trying to get this figured out.  But it’s not an absolute that guys will be at practice tomorrow.”

While HGH testing remains a point of contention, Goodell’s authority when it comes to fines and suspensions apparenty has taken center stage.  “[W]ith Roger Goodell having total control over the fine process, that’s a deal-breaker for us in this situation,” Clark said.  “We feel like someone else should be on there; there should be some . . . type of way — actually someone who’s not on the NFL payroll.  A big issue, for us, especially, as a team, is Roger Goodell . . . being judge, jury and appeals system.”

While Clark has a point when it comes to penalties imposed under the substance-abuse policy, the steroids policy, and the personal conduct policy, the Commissioner currently doesn’t have final say when it comes to discipline for illegal hits and other on-field conduct.  In reality, Art Shell and Ted Cottrell make the final call on these matters, and the two former coaches were jointly selected by and are collectively compensated by the NFL and the NFLPA.

Unfortunately, this paragraph from Wilner will perpetuate the misconception:  “Pittsburgh has been one of the most fined teams in the league, particularly star linebacker James Harrison. The Steelers have been vocal about what they perceive as unfair treatment by the NFL.”

Another potential sticking point comes from the stated intention of the NFL to hold players responsible for off-field misconduct during the lockout, a position that we continue to regard as ludicrous.

Either way, De Smith expressed optimism last week on PFT Live that the deal will get done.  And since many of you have made it clear that you don’t want to hear about CBA matters now that football is back, we’ll stop her and get back to football.

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11 teams still have $20 million or more in cap room

GYI0062561256_crop_450x500 Getty Images

One week into the 2011 spending spree under the new $120.4 million salary cap, 11 teams still have more than $20 million available for the coming season.  A source with knowledge of the numbers has shared them with PFT.

Leading the way are the Bengals, with more than $41 million in cap room.  The Jaguars have more than $34 million.

And the bronze goes, surprisingly, to the Browns, with more than $30.4 million.

The others are:  the Buccaneers (more than $30.2 million); the 49ers (more than $30.0 million); the Chiefs (more than $28.7 million); the Broncos (more than $26.7 million); the Bills (more than $26.5 million); the Bears (more than $24 million); the Cardinals (more than $23.6 million); and the Seahawks (more than $21.2 million).

It remains widely believed by fans and some in the media that the mandatory minimum cash spend of 89 percent under the new labor deal immediately applies.  It doesn’t.

While the league as a whole must spend cash in 2011 that equates to 99 percent of the cap, there’s no minimum requirement for each team until 2013.  Thus, neither the Bengals nor any other specific team is required to spend another dime — as long as all 32 teams cuts checks this year that equal at least $3.814 billion.

UPDATE:  These numbers include the $3 million one-time exemption available to each team in 2011, which pushed the total spending limit to $123.4 million.

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Eller plaintiffs not going away quietly

eller_62428 Getty Images

Though they didn’t get in the way of a new labor deal, the class of players led by Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller isn’t getting out of the way completely.

A major dispute lingers between Eller’s faction of retired players and the NFLPA.  Last week, a website with close ties to the NFLPA wrote an item in which other retired players, including Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood, complained that their names had been added without their knowledge or consent to a letter seeking support of retired players as the CBA process approached its conclusion.  Over the weekend, Eller and NFLPA senior director of retired player services Nolan Harrison traded barbs over Eller’s allegation — possibly stirred up by the NFL — that the NFLPA redirected away from the retired players an extra $500 million.  (The full article from Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times is worth a read.)

Now, Judy Battista of the New York Times (via SportsBusiness Daily) reports that the Eller plaintiffs, through lawyer Michael Hausfeld, have sent a letter to the National Labor Relations Board complaining about the manner in which the NFLPA negotiated on behalf of the retired players, despite the NFLPA not being a union.

“The Carl Eller class has learned that despite its representations to the contrary, the union bargained away significant and substantial retired player issues without any input from the retired players,” Hausfeld’s letter alleges.

The point that the Eller class continues to forget is that, if they secure the ability to negotiate directly with the NFL, the NFL simply can shrug its shoulders and say, “You’ll get whatever we choose to give you.”

The time for retired players to cut a deal for retirement benefit was when they were (wait for it) active players.  Retired players have no legal right to ongoing benefits beyond that which they negotiated while playing, and they now have no leverage to get more, since they can’t go on strike.

Still, it’s an argument Hausfeld was advancing in the final days of the labor dispute, and it’s now clear that Hausfeld and Eller won’t be going away voluntarily.  They need to be careful, or the fans may ultimately decide that they want Eller and the retired players to just go away.

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Sources: Disclosure of rookie scale formula by NFLPA nearly blew up settlement

Carolina Panthers Training Camp Getty Images

Football returned on Tuesday, featuring an unprecedented string of deals done in an ultra-compressed time frame.  An accidental disclosure by the NFLPA has contributed to the madness, by expediting the process of getting draft picks under contract.

But that came after the blunder nearly blew up the brand-new labor deal.

According to multiple sources, the NFL and the players agreed when crafting the rookie wage scale that the slot-by-slot formula would be kept confidential, and that agents and teams would know only the total rookie dollars allocated by team.  This approach would make the process similar to past years,  when the CBA utilized a rookie salary cap, which provided teams with limited money for all rookies but no restrictions on how it would be divvied up.

Despite a new name and far fewer dollars to go around, the same concept applies. Teams get a total amount that can be paid to all rookies, and the teams can decide which draft pick will get how much of the money.

Previously, the pick-by-pick formula used to determine each team’s rookie salary cap never had been disclosed to agents or teams.  This year, in the first season of the new rookie wage scale, it was.

As best we can tell, a low-level employee at the NFLPA inadvertently sent the formula out to agents.  The agents initially were confused by what they had received.  When some started to rely on the formula when negotiating deals, the league became aware of what had occurred.

The sources, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, told PFT that the league responded by accusing the NFLPA of breaching the settlement agreement, and threatening to scrap the deal.  Cooler heads quickly prevailed, and the league decided to remedy the situation by sending the pick-by-pick formula to all teams.

Thus, every agent and every team have a comprehensive list of the year-one rookie allocation, the total rookie allocation, and the year-one minimum allotment for every single pick in the draft.  As a result, the deals are being done for nearly the exact numbers specified in the pick-by-pick formula, making a simplified process even more simple.

“The deals are taking five minutes to do,” one agent told PFT on Saturday afternoon.

For example, the formula that has been disclosed to the agents and the teams indicates that the total four-year value of Cam Newton’s contract as the first overall pick should be $22,025,500.  The actual number?  $22,025,498.

Though the information has made the process easier for everyone, it has limited the ability of some agents to negotiate a larger chunk of the per-team allocation.  Since the new wage scale isn’t technically a firm slotting process, some agents could finagle extra money for their clients, even if it may come at the expense of one of the team’s other draft picks.

Thus, the speed of the process in 2011 has been fueled both by the sense of urgency and by the ease with which the teams and the agents can get the deals done, given the inadvertent disclosure of the pick-by-pick formula to everyone involved.

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The NFLPA officially loses its asterisk

NFLPA Executive Committee Meet In Washington DC To Vote On New Labor Agreement Getty Images

The moment the new CBA was agreed to, we stopped calling the NFLPA the NFLPA* even though NFL players technically had not yet agreed to reconstitute as a union.

On Saturday afternoon, we can pass along word the NFLPA is officially back.

Albert Breer of NFL Network reports the union officially recertified.  This was done in advance of Saturday’s labor negotiations with the NFL.

The players needed a majority vote to recertify. They collected union cards all week and had enough by Saturday to finish the procedure.

Now all they have to do is settle the remaining issues on the table. Hopefully the two sides finish off a win-win agreement so we don’t have to use that asterisk ever again.

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Per-team spending minimum doesn’t apply until 2013

wbbm-1018-cash Getty Images

One of the highlights of the labor deal, from the perspective of the players, comes from the requirement that each team muat spend at least 89 percent of the salary cap in cash on an annual basis.  “We cannot have teams like KC spend only 67% of the cap like they did in 2009,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees wrote in an e-mail to his teammates.  “It doesn’t matter how high the cap is if they are only going to spend that much.  So with a minimum in place, it requires all teams to be at or above that minimum.  More money in players pockets.”

The players got what they wanted.  But it doesn’t apply until 2013.

Yes, for 2011 and 2012 no minimum cash spending requirement applies on a per-team basis.  We were first alerted to this reality on Thursday morning, during a weekly segment with Steve Davis and Ed Norris of 105.7 the Fan in Baltimore.  Davis said that Ravens president Dick Cass had explained the situation in a recent on-air interview, and Davis forwarded the audio to us later in the day.

The summary of the final deal that we obtained on Monday confirms that, indeed, the “minimum team cash spend” applies on a four-year basis from 2013 through 2016, and from 2017 through 2020.  No minimum per-team expenditure applies for 2011 and 2012.

Still, on a league-wide basis, the labor deal requires the NFL to spend 99 percent of the salary cap in cash in 2011 and 2012.

So what happens if too many teams spend so little that the league isn’t able to average 99 percent of the cap in actual cash spent?  NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, via NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, explained Friday night that the league would be required to pay the difference to the players.

That said, the league doesn’t believe that it will be a problem, even if teams like the Bucs and Bengals and Chiefs decide to spend as little as possible over the next two years.  Based on the money spent to date, the league thinks that the average expenditure of $119 million per team easily will be met.

Remember, it’s not cap space but cash spent.  So when a team like the Panthers gives defensive end Charles Johnson a $30 million signing bonus on a six-year deal, only $5 million counts against the cap — but $30 million counts against the league’s total spending requirement of $3.8 billion.

The more relevant point, for the next two years, is that teams like the Bucs, Bengals, and Chiefs can choose to stay as far below the salary cap as they want.

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League, union scheduled to start finalizing CBA tomorrow

NFLPA Executive Committee Meet In Washington DC To Vote On New Labor Agreement Getty Images

Football is back, but the labor issues of the past five months (or, as the case may be, three years) still aren’t completely resolved.

Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that the league and the recertified union will begin talking about specific noneconomic work issues on Saturday.  Drug testing, benefits, and discipline reportedly are on the agenda.

Despite the open issues, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told PFT Live on Thursday that he anticipates no problems.  Still, a fight could be looming regarding the question of whether the personal conduct policy will apply retroactively, during the lockout.

As NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told PFT Live earlier in the week, “Something tells me our members are going to tell us to deal with that pretty aggressively.  I’ll just leave it at that.”

It’s likely a matter of time before the two sides get the remaining issues ironed out.  But there’s not unlimited time to make it happen.  The 2011 League Year is due to start by Thursday, August 4.  And the League Year can’t begin until the CBA is finished.

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