The two biggest stories of the offseason could have a common thread slightly thicker than the fact that both involve the Saints.
While there’s no obvious link between the bounty suspensions and the fact that quarterback Drew Brees still doesn’t have a contract, there’s a belief that Brees and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita are experiencing retaliation for their roles in last year’s CBA talks.
As to Brees, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports that the NFLPA recently has asked Commissioner Roger Goodell to explore whether the Saints are acting in good faith with respect to the Brees contract talks. Per La Canfora, some within the union believe Brees’ efforts last year in connection with the labor deal “might be held against him.” The union reportedly will file unfair labor practice charges, if the NFL does not investigate the situation.
As to Fujita, Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com speculates that the NFL’s inclusion of the Browns linebacker within the quartet of suspended players may reflect payback for Fujita’s “outspoken” efforts in 2011, which included expressing concern about an 18-game regular season. “Fujita also questioned the league’s laxity in linking concussion injuries to long-term health effects,” Grossi writes. “In union meetings at which Goodell was present, Fujita was known for putting Goodell on spot with direct questions and refutations.”
It would be tough to prove bias based on their roles in the CBA talks, absent a smoking-gun admission from a league or team executive. But merely pushing the issue could give the players an extra bit of leverage.
La Canfora reports that the NFLPA also is “closely monitoring” the lack of negotiations with the Saints draft picks, a contention that seems ludicrous on its face. For starters, the Saints have a small class, with no first-round or second-round pick. Also, in past years few draft picks had been signed at this point in the offseason, and no one ever said “boo” about it. If the Saints rookies didn’t like the fact that the team wasn’t negotiating with them, the Saints rookies should have boycotted the offseason program.
Besides, why would the Saints gratuitously alienate their newest players?
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this specific situation comes from the lengths to which the NFLPA seems to be going to insulate Brees from any blame.
“The NFLPA opted to pursue this matter with Goodell on its own, and was not probed by Brees,” La Canfora said. “The quarterback did not play a role in the decision, sources said, with the union moving forward of its own accord. NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith would not discuss the specifics of the matter but said the union was acting as it would to protect any member and that Brees did not have a say in any of the actions the union might take.”
Baloney, we say.
For starters, a union typically doesn’t push an issue that the affected player doesn’t want to push. When it comes to Brees, who remains a member of the NFLPA’s Executive Committee, there’s no way union leadership would take action against his wishes, since he is part of union leadership.
So, yes, Brees looks to be behind this one. And that’s fine; if he’s a victim of retaliation for his role in the labor talks, he has every right to seek relief.
But he also should be willing to acknowledge it.