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Murphy’s comments on retired players angered NFLPA

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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.

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Rookie wage scale could be the first step toward guaranteed veteran contracts

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As we pointed out at some point before all transactional hell broke loose, the rookie wage scale gives rookie draft picks less reason than ever to hold out.  There’s little reason to hold out because there’s not much to negotiate.

That said, there’s one fairly significant factor that remains negotiable — the extent to which the rookie contract is guaranteed.

It hasn’t been a hard sell for plenty of the teams who have signed first-round picks.  Several of the contracts are fully and completely guaranteed.

And that makes us wonder whether agents, once in the habit of negotiating fully guaranteed contracts, will start asking for fully guaranteed veteran contracts.  The teams, once in the habit of granting fully guaranteed contracts, may start agreeing to fully guaranteed veteran contracts, in some cases.

Given Bengals owner Mike Brown’s stance on quarterback Carson Palmer, players may start clamoring for a two-way “commitment.”  Now that first-round picks are getting that two-way commitment, other players may want it, too.

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Witten praises the role of his boss in getting labor deal done

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft, perhaps the only owner the players truly trust, has received much deserved praise for his role in the negotiation of a new labor deal.  Another owner regarded by many as a man more likely to play hardball also is drawing credit for getting the deal done.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, despite reportedly trying to intimidate the players early in the process, played an important part in working things out.

“Without him, that deal wouldn’t have gotten done,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten told Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.  “Everyone should know that.

“Sometimes you forget how influential one person can be.  He didn’t make it emotional. I t was always about building a partnership and working toward a resolution.  It was never something personal or trying to gain any advantage for himself.  It was all about representing everyone in the entire room.  That’s not always easy to do — and he did that on a daily basis.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agrees.  “Jerry was outstanding,” Goodell told Gosselin.  “I’m not sure this deal could have gotten done without him.  His passion is unmatched.  His drive is incredible. . . .  His commitment in this negotiation was clearly evident.”

Jones’ likely reward for his effort will be a 10-percent tax on his local revenues, given the terms of the new supplemental revenue sharing package that was developed as part of the labor deal.  The Cowboys presumably are at or near the top of the list of revenue-generating teams.

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NFLPA reminds agents of new salary cap exceptions

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With NFL transactions currently moving faster than the speed of blog, there’s a chance that agents and/or teams will make mistakes.  The NFLPA, which soon will reacquire jurisdiction over the regulation of agents, has reminded them of a couple of things that should help when facing the “we don’t have the cap room” whining from personnel execs.

Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal reports that the once-and-future-union has sent a memo pointing out some of the new realities of the restored salary cap.

First, although each team has a cap limit of $120.4 million, each team may exercise a $3 million exemption, pushing the true cap to $123.4 million.

Second, each team can ignore up to $1 million in salary for three separate veterans with five or more years of service.

Third, teams can spend money now that is spread over future salary caps.  For example, the $30 million signing bonus paid to Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson on a six-year deal results in $5 million being allocated to each of the next six seasons.

Also, keep in mind that the Transition Rules don’t require teams to be under the salary cap until the next league year starts, on or about August 4.  Thus, teams can go over the cap now and get under it later.

Of course, later is coming up pretty soon.

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Pats vote unanimously to recertify union

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Last year, we posted a stream of stories regarding the decisions of the players from the various teams to authorize in advance the decertification of the NFLPA.

Fasten your seat belts for a stream of stories on the decisions of the players from the various teams to recertify.

We’ll wake you when it’s over.

Actually, we probably won’t post all of them.  But we’ll post the first one.

Ron Borges of the Boston Herald reports that the Patriots unanimously have voted to recertify the union.

The vote came after a 90-minute meeting between NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and the players, during which Smith explained the importance of being unionized.

The most important point?  Without a union, the NFL is exposed to antitrust litigation attacking the draft and the rookie wage scale.  Which would take away money from the veteran players.

Which helps explain why the vote was unanimous.

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Player prepare to push back against personal conduct policy

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The new CBA won’t be done until the players vote to reconstitute the union.  After that happens, the NFL and the NFLPA must collectively bargain matters like drug testing, steroids testing, and the personal conduct policy.

As to the personal conduct policy, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah addressed on Tuesday’s PFT Live the question of whether the resurrected union will allow the league to impose discipline for off-field incidents occurring during the work stoppage.

“Something tells me our members are going to tell us to deal with that pretty aggressively,” Atallah said.  “I’ll just leave it at that.”

And they should.  It’s wrong, in our view, to hold players responsible for things done away from work at a time when the boss won’t let the players work.

Even if the league is pushing the issue merely for leverage as to other issues, it’s an unreasonable position and the players should refuse to make any concessions in order to get the league to abandon this stance.

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NFLPA releases video thanking fans

The NFLPA (we’ve officially dropped the asterisk in anticipation of the official return of union status) has issued a video featuring a series of “thank you” messages from a variety of NFL players.

Played over the kind of background music that in the right circumstances can make a grown man cry, the realization that this multi-year mess finally is over coupled with the words from the players almost got me a little choked up.  (Almost.  And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Players speaking on the video include Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, Falcons linebacker Coy Wire, Rams offensive lineman Adam Goldberg, Buccaneers receiver Maurice Stovall, Saints offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb, Bears kicker Robbie Gould (whose sore-thumb build was accentuated by his high school physics teacher attire), free-agent (as of five minutes ago) linebacker Takeo Spikes, Bills safety George Wilson, Lions safety Erik Coleman, free-agent (as of five minutes ago) Tyson Clabo, Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis, and Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Said Spikes:  “In the end, we all got what we wanted.  And that’s football.”

Amen.

Whitworth wrapped it up with something that nearly caused me to run through the nearest wall.  (Or, as the case may be, to bounce off the nearest wall.  Because I truly am the juggernaut, bitch.)

“We got this thing done,” Whitworth said, “now let’s play some ball.”

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Minimum salaries shoot up under new deal

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The bad news for undrafted players is that they won’t be able to tell who’s interested in them as something more than camp fodder based on the signing bonus that a team offers.

The good news for undrafted players is that, if they make a team, they’ll make a lot more money.

The minimum salaries for NFL players have increased by $55,000 across the board.  For 2011, that means rookies will get $375,000.  Players with one year of service get $450,000.  Two years of service will push the minimum to $525,000.

Players with three years of service will make a minimum of $600,000.  For players with four to six years of service, the minimum salary is $685,000.  Seven to nine, $810,000.

For players with 10 years or more of service, the minimum salary is $910,000.

The amounts increase $15,000 per year in each of the next four seasons.

It’s believed that the program previously employed by the NFL to allow teams to sign veterans to one-year deals at a reduced camp number will apply in the new CBA.  If not, marginal veteran players could become far less attractive, given the $535,000 gap between the minimum pay for rookies and 10-year pros.

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Undrafted players get screwed in the new deal

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Undrafted players sign contracts for the minimum annual salaries.  The only thing that distinguishes one team’s offer from another team’s offer is the signing bonus.

The decision to cap each team’s signing bonuses for undrafted free agents to $75,000 hurts these players who have been waiting patiently for work in a way far more significant than the dollars and cents of the signing bonus.  As a league source explained it to me earlier today (and as I ranted a bit on PFT Live), it will now be harder for agents to know which teams are serious about the chances of an undrafted player to make the team.

Every team says it.  But then when the team offers a signing bonus of only $2,500, the agent knows that it’s just talk.  When $20,000 is offered, the agent knows that the team has real interest.

Per the source, one team was ready to offer $20,000 to six different undrafted players.  Another team budgeted $150,000 for undrafted rookie signing bonuses.

None of that will happen now, and it will be even harder for undrafted players to know which teams truly have high regard for them, especially in a year that will include 90 players going to training camp.  As a result, it’ll be even harder for the next Kurt Warner to separate from the scout team and become a Super Bowl hero.

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Dolphins advise employees that pay will be refunded

Michael Dee AP

The Dolphins have joined their AFC East rivals in New York by making it known that all salaries will be restored to where they were on May 15, the date on which the team began to cut pay.

In a letter to all staff, a copy of which PFT has obtained, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee also advised the employees that they will receive in their next paychecks any money that has been withheld.

“On behalf of Steve Ross and our senior leadership team, THANK YOU for your attitude, your support and your exemplary contributions during a time where individuals who were less committed may have wavered,” Dee wrote.

So that’s two down, and we’re not sure how many more to go.  We’ll dust off the list of the teams that took money from non-player employees during the lockout, and we’ll start banging the drum for the rest of them to do the right thing.

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Highlights of final deal

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PFT has obtained a summary of the labor deal that was approved today by the NFLPA* Executive Committee and board of player representatives.

We’d ordinarily think of some funny or poignant turn of phrase right here, but time’s-a-wastin’.

Regarding the issue of the minimum per-team cash spend (something for which Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently told teammates via e-mail he would be fighting), the two sides agreed that each franchise will spend at least 89 percent of the cap, on a four-year average from 2013 through 2016, and from 2017 through 2020.  (Across the entire league, the NFL has committed to spending 99 percent of the cap space in 2011 and 2012, and 95 percent for the rest of the deal.)

Teams will be allowed to have a whopping 90 players on the roster during training camp.

The timeline meshes exactly with the timeline we posted earlier today.  (It was never revised due to the slight delay in the voting process.)

The league year will begin August 4, unless the CBA is ratified sooner than that by the players.

Workout bonuses will be paid in full if a player is not waived before 4:01 p.m. ET on July 29.  If the player is waived before then, the full amount will be paid if the bonus was less than $50,000.  From $50,000 to $100,000, the player will get $50,000.  For bonuses over $100,000, the player will get half, up to $100,000.

Roster and option bonuses to be earned during the lockout will be earned if the player is on the roster at 4:00 p.m. ET on July 29.  (That could be called the Vince Young rule.)

As to injury protection, a player will get half of his salary, up to $1 million, in the season after a catastrophic injury. In the second year, he’ll get 30 percent, up to $500,000.

As to the workers’ compensation forum-shopping issue, the question of whether players will be permitted to file claims in California despite never playing for a team headquartered there will continue to be subject ongoing litigation on that point.  (There goes the league’s desire for a clean courtroom slate.)

There is no opt out, as previously reported by Albert Breer of NFL Network.  It’s a firm, 10-year contract.

Stay tuned for more details as we try to digest the paperwork that already is flooding the PFT e-mailbox.

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The CBA in a nutshell

Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith, AP

We have an agreement.  Finally.   So what’s in it?

We know a lot about the new collective bargaining agreement and how it will shape the NFL for the next decade.  We’ll learn even more in the coming hours as we get a chance to read the fine print.

In the meantime, PFT wanted to give folks just joining the party a broad outline of the agreement.

(And by broad outline, we mean that we’ll mostly link to all the other posts we’ve been cranking out.  What, you thought we were going re-write everything?)

Length of agreement: We’ve got ten years of labor peace on the way.  There is no opt out clause in the deal.

Revenue split: This is what it was all about.  The players were on defense the whole time, knowing that owners would get a larger share of the overall pie.

The two sides agreed on a new “all revenue” model.  It’s a little complicated, but overall the players must average at least 47 percent of all revenue for the 10-year term of the agreement.

The money was counted differently in the past, but the split was essentially closer to 50-50 before.

Drafted Rookies: A new rookie wage scale will dramatically curb spending on rookies. High first-round draft picks are taking a huge hit. No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton, for instance, is expected to see less than half the guaranteed money of 2010 No. 1 pick Sam Bradford. Those top-shelf contracts will be four years, with a pricey fifth year option.

Measures to prevent rookie holdouts were also put into the deal, in part by making the rookie contracts simpler.  Players taken rounds two-through-seven aren’t overly impacted.

Continue reading »

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It’s over: NFLPA* leadership unanimously ratifies CBA

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The NFLPA* wanted a unanimous recommendation of the new labor deal before sending it to the rank-and-file for a 50-percent-plus-one vote, and the NFLPA* got it.

“It’s unanimous,” NFLPA* spokesman George Atallah said on Twitter.

It’s still not over, but there’s virtually no way at least 50 percent of the players won’t agree.

Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that the 10 Brady class action plaintiffs also have approved of the settlement.

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Coaches brace for postseason intensity from day one

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The good news is that football is close to being back.

The better news is that the 32 coaches will be feeling a level of unprecedented urgency and intensity.

An NFL head coach recently told me that he expects every team to approach the season with a playoff intensity, from the moment camp opens.

That doesn’t mean it will last through early February.  But we could see teams trying harder than ever before to get those critical wins early in the season and set the tone for a successful campaign.

Either way, it’ll be fun to watch.

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The timeline given to Executive Committee and player representatives

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Everyone has a timeline, so we decided we should get one, too.

We got ours from a pretty good source.  It’s the actual hard copy that was presented this morning to the NFLPA* Executive Committee and board of player representatives for consideration.

Titled “Article 11, Transition Rules for the 2011 League Year,” here’s what the document provides.

Today, the NFL will publish a Free Agency List.

On Tuesday, team facilities will open for voluntary training, conditioning, and classroom instruction.

On Tuesday, trades can begin.

At 10:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, teams may sign drafted rookies, undrafted rookies, and negotiate with (but not sign) their own unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, exclusive-rights players, and franchise players.

Also, beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, teams may negotiate with, but not sign or give offer sheets to, other team’s unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, and franchise players.

At 4:01 p.m. ET on Thursday, teams may waive or terminate player contracts.

At 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, teams may renegotiate existing player contracts.

Also at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, teams sign their own unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents, exclusive-rights free agents, and franchise players.

Also at 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday, teams may sign unrestricted free agents from other teams, restricted free agents from other teams, and franchise players from other teams.

No payment of any kind can be made to any player until the CBA has been ratified by the players.

The 2011 league year will begin no later than August 4.  When the 2011 league year begins, teams must be under the salary cap.  (Specifically, their highest 51 cap numbers must fit under the cap.)

Thus, look for some teams to possibly go over the projected cap this week, and then to find a way to get under the cap before the official start of the league year.

UPDATE: Here’s the training camp reporting dates for each team.

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