As the NFL owners and players continue to negotiate in hopes of solving the labor impasse, the lawyer for a group of retired players has fired a shot across the bow at management and the union.
Attorney Michael Hausfeld, who is representing Carl Eller and a cluster of other players who have sued to gain control of health, disability and retirement benefits, said that his group will not sign off on a court settlement until its demands are satisfied. More troubling is that Hausfeld said his side has not been involved in the mediation of the lawsuit.
"If our side is not heard and our desire for change is not met, we will not agree to a settlement of this case," said Hausfeld, whose suit on behalf of Eller and others was joined in court with the Brady v. NFL suit. "We want substantial changes in all phases of the post-career life of retirees and those issues will be addressed."
Ultimately, Hausfeld and his clients might not have final say. Hausfeld said that a settlement could be reached over objections by his clients. However, Hausfeld said he believed Federal Judge Susan Richard Nelson of the Minnesota District Court would not allow that given that she joined the Brady and Eller cases.
Hausfeld's group has not taken part in the talks between league and the decertified NFL Players Association representatives that have rotated around the country in recent weeks in hopes of ending the four-month lockout. Last week, Eller met with a group of four NFL owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a league meeting in Chicago. While there was some progress, Hausfeld indicated it was not nearly enough.
Until now, the NFLPA, when it was still a union, negotiated benefits on the part of retirees. The union would bargain with the owners for the slice of money that went to post-career benefits. Hausfeld and his clients are seeking more control of the retirement benefits.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the owners have taken Eller and Hausfeld's demands seriously.
"Improvements for retired players continue to be an important part of the ongoing talks between owners and players," Aiello wrote in an email Tuesday. "A group of owners met last week with Carl Eller at our league meeting in Chicago to get a full understanding of his views."
On Tuesday, the participants from the league's and players' sides were primarily lawyers; no players or owners from either side. A source very familiar with the circumstances indicated that the lawyers were working on paperwork toward a possible settlement.
Aiello said he couldn't comment on why Eller's side has not been included in the negotiations because of the confidentiality of the talks. Federal magistrate Arthur Boylan, who is mediating the negotiations, has requested that both sides not talk about the sessions.
"We obviously can't comment on any of the specifics, but the suit by their group is what it is," NFLPA senior director of retired players Nolan Harrison said. "I think the retired players were very well represented in the earlier negotiations by Cornelius Bennett, Jim McFarland and even [NFLPA president] Kevin Mawae(notes), who has been retired for a year now."
- Carl Eller