The NFLPA didn’t waste any time responding to claims they want a lockout, holding an impromptu conference call Thursday with the express purpose of responding to a Washington Post article from last night.
“Any suggestion we want a lockout is coming from outer space,” NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said on the call, which also included Colts center Jeff Saturday and NFLPA president Kevin Mawae.
We asked Berthelsen if he expected a lockout if a deal hasn’t been worked out by March 4.
“From everything we’ve seen and observed, there is a group of people who believe the hockey owners in 2004 and 2005 were able to extract significant concessions from the players then,” Berthelsen answered. “They did it through [outside NFL labor counsel] Bob Batterman and his lockout strategy and that appears to be what the NFL owners have decided to do.”
Berthlesen relayed a communication from the league that warned health benefits would be cut off in the event of a work stoppage. The NFLPA wouldn’t indicate Thursday whether they would decertify if they are locked out.
“We’re going to devote every waking minute to getting a deal done before March 3rd,” Berthlesen said. “Whatever we do thereafter would be in response to what the owners do.”
On the call, Berthlesen repeatedly painted Batterman as the driving force behind the league’s lockout strategy and compared the situation to the NHL lockout.
The NFLPA failed to satisfactorily explain why the two sides haven’t met in person for more than a month. Mawae said there were no meetings scheduled that “he was aware of.” (He said the same on PFT Live Wednesday.) The owners plan to meet next week, which the union hopes will inspire another round of talks.
Less formal discussions have been ongoing. Berthlesen said that a “week doesn’t go by” where NFLPA Executive director DeMaurice Smith and Commissioner Roger Goodell don’t speak, but those “kind of communications are the most important so they are best kept confidential.”
Saturday was the most emotional person on the call, forcefully insisting the players want to play. He didn’t want to discuss decertifying at this stage.
“We’re not doing anything until we’re locked out by the owners; only if we’re forced to act or react,” Saturday said.
The time for action is now.