NFLPA tells agents to report any hint of collusion

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NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has told agents that the union has “heard reports of a concern that teams are working in concert” to “set” player compensation, NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported Wednesday.

Smith expressed this view in a letter to agents in which he asked them to share any evidence gathered of collusion among teams in free agency should they have it, Breer reported.

The news of Smith’s letter comes three weeks into free agency. Though the start of the 2013 league year brought some lucrative longer-term deals, such as the one the Dolphins gave wideout Mike Wallace, the free-agent market has been far from overheated.

Game location, player compensation among Pro Bowl changes weighed

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Letting players pick teams isn’t the only big Pro Bowl change being weighed by the NFL.

NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported Tuesday that the location of the Pro Bowl and the way players are compensated are among the potential changes being discussed by the league. (Earlier Tuesday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said that the way teams are comprised was on the table, too, something Breer also noted.)

According to Breer, the league will soon announce its plans regarding the location of future games, and locations other than Honolulu, where this year’s game was held, could be in the mix. Breer also reported that the game, for now, will continue to be played the weekend before the Super Bowl.

The NFL, per the CBA negotiated with the players, can choose when and where to have the Pro Bowl, “provided that the (league) will consult with the NFLPA prior to making any such determination.”

Per Breer, the league could also change how it pays players for the game, with performance incentives tied to the results of game periods — quarters, halves, etc. — something being weighed, along bonuses for individual stellar performance.

This is a very interesting issue.

The total amount of compensation for players is also a collectively bargained matter. For next winter’s Pro Bowl, the winner’s share is $53,000, while the loser’s share is $26,000. In short, complete game result is the measuring stick used now. Pro Bowl payouts are collectively bargained through 2020.

It’s understandable that the league is looking at ways to change the Pro Bowl. But the compensation matter is a compelling one. As the CBA is written right now, I could not see the NFLPA standing for any player making less than $26,000 in the game. After, it’s a bargained issue.

So here’s the question: would the NFL be open to increasing the total amount of money available to players, or will it simply be redistributing the dollars a different way?

The Pro Bowl has lacked some intrigue over the years. But you know what will be very intriguing? The process by which any changes to the NFL’s all-star game come to pass.

Report: NFL, NFLPA “closing in” on HGH testing agreement

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Could HGH testing be in place for the 2013 NFL season?

According to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, that is very much a possibility. In a story published Friday night, Silver reported that the league and the NFLPA “seem to be closing in on a deal to implement the program in advance” of next season.

However, as Silver reported, there are still issues for both sides to overcome.  According to Silver, one major hurdle is the union’s wish for a wider range of appeals of player-discipline decisions handed down by the league to be handled by an independent arbitrator, including those that aren’t violations of the substance-abuse and PED policies. Also, the league wants to perform gameday blood tests for HGH, Silver wrote.

“That is absolutely never going to happen,” an unnamed union source told Silver.

Silver reported that the NFLPA and NFL could resume negotiations on the HGH policy after each group has its annual meetings in the next two weeks. The NFLPA will consider the NFL’s most recent proposal next week at its meeting in the Bahamas, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Picking apart the Week Four picks

Every Thursday morning, we post the picks from MDS and yours truly.  Then, on PFT Live, one of us gloats about who won the prior week’s contest and then we argue about the picks on which we disagree for the coming week.

This week, I got to gloat.  But MDS got to break out his Estelle Costanza impression.

Yeah, you’re probably gonna watch it just for that.

Here we are, talking Vikings-Lions, Chargers-Chiefs, Seahawks-Rams, and a bonus game that makes each of us nervous.

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More than a third of the league pinning hopes on quarterbacks with limited experience

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As the 2012 regular season approaches, there are two kinds of teams in the NFL.  Teams that have a franchise quarterback, and teams that are trying to get a franchise quarterback.

Thanks to the latter, 11 teams are expected to start the season with starting quarterbacks having one year of experience or less.

For a closer look at this dynamic, here’s a slice from Monday’s PFT Live.

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NFLPA will appeal Burbank decision


The NFLPA has issued a statement in response to arbitrator Stephen Burbank’s decision to reject the NFLPA’s argument that he should determine whether or not Saints players violated rules regarding whether players were paid as part of a bounty program.

The union will appeal the decision to the Appeals Panel provided under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Per their statement, the union “believes that the players are entitled to neutral arbitration of these issues under the CBA and will continue to fight for that principle and to protect the fair due process rights of all players.”

It’s important to note that Burbank’s decision has nothing to do with how the players will be punished. As he wrote in his decision and the NFLPA quotes in its statement, “nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.” This is a procedural issue about who decides the penalties and Burbank’s opinion is that power should rest with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

A separate grievance still sits in front of another arbitrator asking whether the new CBA prevents Goodell from imposing any discipline on players for conduct occurring before it was signed. That grievance also asks whether the appeals should be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA to review discipline imposed by Goodell for on-field misconduct.

Six year, $96 million for Mario Williams

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The numbers are in for defensive end Mario Williams.  And they’re impressive.

A source with knowledge of the contract tells PFT that the deal has a base value of $96 million over six years, including $25 million fully guaranteed on signing.  Another $25 million is guaranteed for injury on signing, and the money will become fully guaranteed at a later date.

The deal can be worth as much as $100 million.

Williams, who made nearly $60 million in six seasons with the Texans, will earn $53 million in his first three seasons with the Bills.

Williams missed much of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the fifth game of the season.  He had make a quick transition to the team’s new 3-4 defense.

In Buffalo, he’ll be back in a 4-3 defense — and he’ll be able to focus on rushing the passer.

Retired players’ lawsuit against NFL, NFLPA still pending

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The league and the players have resolved their differences, but Carl Eller and a class of retired players still have a beef with both sides.

Per the Associated Press, the lawyers for the parties appeared in court before Judge Susan Nelson on Wednesday.  Eller and company want Judge Nelson to order everyone back to mediation for the purposes of dealing with the retired players’ claims.

Judge Nelson, according to the AP, said that the retired players face an uphill battle.  And she’s right.  The retired players have no real legal claims, against anyone.

Meanwhile, SportsBusiness Daily reports that retired player Bernie Parrish has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the NFLPA violated federal law by attempting to negotiate on behalf of retired players.

Again, the retired players have no rights — and they have no leverage.  They may not like what the NFLPA got for them, but it’s more than they could have gotten on their own.

Maybe that’s what needs to happen.  Maybe the court should vacate any portion of the new CBA that involves payment to retired players, and then let the retired players to work out their own deal.

If they don’t like what the NFL offers, the retired players can always go on strike.

League intends to create “constant threat” of HGH testing

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The NFL continues to prepare to unveil HGH testing as soon as Week One of the regular season.  On Tuesday, NFL senior V.P. of labor law and policy Adolpho Birch (not pictured) conducted a conference call to discuss the details of HGH testing.

One of the primary benefits of testing is deterrence.  Though a certain percentage of players will continue to cheat, the possibility of being caught could ensure that players who aren’t using HGH won’t be tempted to start, and it also could steer some of those inclined to try away from assuming the risk of being caught.

As a result, Birch identified “the constant threat of testing” as one of the key aspects of the program.

Apart from the annual test that will be conducted in the preseason, players will be subject to six random offseason tests and an unlimited number of in-season tests.  “That could be, if a person were particularly lucky or unlucky, it could be 22 or 23 times,” Birch said.  “I don’t suspect it will be that much, but the number of test dates that we will have, I would certainly expect our players to be tested in an amount that would be meaningful.”

Birch said that he doesn’t believe HGH use is as prevalent as some have suggested.  But he acknowledged that no one really knows how frequently it is — or isn’t — being used.  “[T]hat is part of the reason we think the testing is critical to do,” Birch said.  “To dispel if it’s untrue.  If it’s true, to deter the use and reduce it.  Either way, we benefit by conducting the test.”

Some details need to still be ironed out, but the goal remains to test for HGH by the time the 2011 season begins.  It’ll then be time to sit back and wait to see who, if anyone, tests positive — and in turn to wonder what excuses will be offered when they do.

NFLPA paid $50 million for lockout insurance

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Several weeks ago, as the labor talks moved toward a conclusion, a report emerged that the NFLPA had secured lockout insurance in the amount of $200,000 per player, in the event that the entire season were canceled.

I was skeptical, in large part due to the fact that the initial report was very light on details, including how it was obtained and how much it cost.

As it turns out, the lockout insurance was real, and it was spectacularly expensive.

Multiple sources have advised PFT that the insurance was purchased from a company known as Swiss Re, at a premium of nearly $50 million.

Now that players not involved in the leadership of the NFLPA are learning about the lockout insurance and the price tag paid for it, there is some griping about the expenditure of money for which nothing was obtained in return.  But that’s the nature of insurance — every year, billions if not trillions are paid for insurance premiums and the purchaser gets nothing in return other than the knowledge that the insurance existed.

In this case, we’re told that the NFLPA Executive Committee approved the transaction, and that NFLPA leadership believed it would help beat back the owners if unveiled at the right time.  Though it’s impossible to know with any certainty whether the lockout insurance helped get the deal done (especially since none of the money would have been paid unless and until the entire season was canceled), it was one of the leverage points that made the NFLPA feel more confident about taking a stand in crunch time of the negotiations.

Actually, the premium was a lot less than it could have been.  With more than 1,900 players in the NFL, the total payout would have exceeded $380 million.

Besides, the successful efforts of the NFLPA to keep the owners from pushing the players’ share of the revenues all the way down to 40 percent will result in the recovery of that $50 million more than 100 times over, over the next 10 years.

New York Times corrects its description of league’s HGH testing plan

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In an analysis posted Friday night on the New York Times website and published in the Saturday edition of the paper, Juliet Macur of the Times presumed that the NFL’s new HGH testing program would entail one test per year.

The league, via spokesman Greg Aiello, responded aggressively, and yet as of this morning there was no clarification or correction.

Earlier today, the Times got its facts straight, publishing a new article that contains no byline, and by appending a correction to the original article, even though this newfangled Internet contraption allows edits to be made to the body of an erroneous article.

“While one reporter for The Times had the additional details,” the new article states, “the reporter who wrote the article with experts assessing the details did not.”  (At least they didn’t say the article was taken out of context.)

That said, the new article subtly couches the fact that testing will occur on more than an annual basis as the league’s contention, even though the league has shared with PFT (and presumably with the Times) the language from the new CBA that states, unequivocally, that testing will occur both on an annual basis and on a random basis.  (Though the new article states that the league declined to provide the actual drug policy, the policy is a different document than the CBA.)

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see whether the matter gets prominent treatment in the Sunday Times, or whether it’ll be buried at the bottom of the page with the off-off-Broadway listings.

NFL, NFLPA have agreed to random HGH testing

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The New York Times has published an aggressive critique of the NFL’s new HGH testing program.  The article presumes that players will be tested only once per year.

The NFL, via spokesman Greg Aiello, has objected publicly to the contention that HGH testing will occur only once per year.

As it turns out, the league is right and the Times is wrong.

Here’s the operative language from the CBA regarding the issue of HGH testing:  “The parties confirm that the Program on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances will include both annual blood testing and random blood testing for human growth hormone, with discipline for positive tests at the same level as for steroids.”  (Emphasis added.)

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.  The Times apparently failed to even try to confirm that there would be more than annual testing before ripping the league’s program based on the mistaken assumption that there would only be annual testing.

It’s a good thing the Times isn’t actually charging people for online content.  Oh.  Never mind.

League takes issue with New York Times analysis of HGH testing


For now, we know that the new CBA will include testing for HGH.  Many of the details of the testing procedure aren’t known, because many of the details still must be resolved.

But that hasn’t stopped the New York Times from building an analysis of the HGH testing program around the presumption that players will be tested only once per year.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello disagrees, and he has pointed that out on Twitter.  Aggressively.

“This is an embarrassment to the NY Times,” Aiello wrote Friday night.  “It says NFL’s HGH testing plan is for once a year.  Wrong.  No fact check?”

Aiello later went Mike Gundy on the Times, exclaiming, “Get your facts straight!

Earlier this morning, Aiello pointed out that the Times hasn’t corrected its analysis.  “If you are wondering whether NY Times fixed the major error in its story about NFL HGH testing plans, well of course not,” Aiello said.  “Why would they?”

In a separate tweet, Aiello said, “NY Times story says NFL HGH plan calls for just one annual test.  Wrong!!!  Still not corrected.

It’s a surprising display of candor — and anger — from the league and its spokesman.  Presumably, Aiello has launched his assault on the New York Times with at least a nod from at least his first-level boss, Paul Hicks, and possibly the approval of his second-tier supervisor, Roger Goodell.

Either way, we like the willingness of the league to respond loudly to what appears to be such a clear mistake, especially since the once-a-year error is repeated multiple times in the analysis, hopelessly infecting the entire thing.

At a minimum, the Times should revise the story to reflect the NFL’s position, as articulated by Aiello.  And if as it appears Aiello is right and the Times is wrong, the article should be further revised to say so.

League remains tight lipped on supplemental draft


Nearly two weeks after the lockout ended and less than one week from the first preseason game, the league still has said nothing about the 2011 supplemental draft.

There’s a chance the league never will.

Asked whether a report from that a decision will be made in the next 24-36 hours is true, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT by e-mail, “No.”

Added Aiello, “A supplemental draft has not been scheduled.  If one is, we will announce the date to the clubs and fans.”

The key word is “if.”  As Aiello previously has said, if there are no eligible players, there will be no supplemental draft.

Either way, with teams working on the fly to put together plans for the 2011 season, it’s hard to imagine that former Ohio State quarterback Terrell Pryor or anyone else would be attractive at this point.  Any player picked would essentially be taking up a roster spot this year based on potential that wouldn’t begin to be realized until 2012, at the earliest.

We also continue to suspect that the NFL is trying to justify not including Pryor as a favor to the NCAA, which lost the ability to interrogate Pryor about any income he received in college once Pryor left school.  There’s no real justification to keep Pryor out, who could have entered the April 2011 draft easily, out of the supplemental draft, especially since as the report points out Ohio State said on July 26 that Pryor would have been declared ineligible for not just the first five games but the entire season.

A lawsuit likely isn’t an option at this point either, now that the CBA has resurrected the league’s exemption from antitrust claims made by current and prospective employees who believe that it’s unfair to create hiring rules that apply to 32 separate businesses.

At some point, it makes more sense for Pryor to simply wait until the April 2012 draft, at which time he would have ample opportunity to work out for scouts and otherwise let teams prepare to make a good decision about his immediate NFL future.

Cue the commenters who’ll say he can pay the bills until then by signing autographs.

Goodell: We’re committed to finalizing drug testing details

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith signed the CBA on Friday, and then appeared on NFL Network afterwards to bask in the relief.   But not every detail has been worked out between the two sides.

Rich Eisen pressed the two men about drug testing policies after reports surfaced Thursday that HGH blood testing would be part of the agreement.

“We’re both committed to getting it done by the start of the regular season,” Goodell said.

Smith also indicated that the players were committed to the process for the sake of the integrity of the game. But some specifics still have to be worked out.  The CBA included the “goal” to finish the process by the start of the year, and at this point it seems safe to trust the two men to finish the job.

It was remarkable to see how comfortable the two men were together after going to battle.  Eisen asked Goodell and Smith if they would head on vacation next.

“Not together,” Smith said to big laughter.