No matter what you thought of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's strategy to bypass the NFL Players' Association and appeal directly to the player with the letter he sent last Thursday (and it's been pretty clear that most players didn't appreciate the gesture at all), you knew a response was coming.
And here it is. The response from the player representatives Kevin Mawae, Charlie Batch, Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins, Domonique Foxworth, Scott Fujita, Sean Morey, Tony Richardson, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, and Brian Waters was a line-by-line refutation of Goodell's attempt to clarify what he thought the league's last best offer was.
You can read the players' complete response after the jump, but even the highlights indicate just how off-base Goodell was with the original letter. The response disputes the NFL's assertion that the players were always interested in litigation, saying instead that breaking off the bargaining talks was "a last resort" taken when "(the last) proposal did not come until 12:30 on Friday (the last day of negotiatons), and, when we examined it, we found it was worse than the proposal the NFL had made the prior week when we agreed to extend the mediation."
"At that point," the letter continues, "it became clear to everyone that the NFL had no intention to make a good faith effort to resolve these issues in collective bargaining and the owners were determined to carry out the lockout strategy they decided on in 2007."
And there was a very direct shot taken at the league's attempts to redirect public sentiment in its direction: "That is why we were very troubled to see your letter, and repeated press reports by yourself, Jeff Pash, and the owners, which claim that the owners met the players halfway in the negotiations, and that the owners offered a fair deal to the players."
And right before the line-by-line refutation begins, there's this little bomb:
"Your statements are false. We will let the facts speak for themselves."
It's now more clear than ever that before the two sides will be able to begin to put the real issues on the table again in any sort of meaningful fashion, the damage done by various breaches of trust and confidence will have to be repaired. As the response letter intimates, Goodell doesn't even bring up the fact that just three weeks ago, Judge David Doty essentially ruled that the owners used assets in new television contracts that were supposed to be bargained for split revenue as "collateral" for insured payment to the league in the event of a work stoppage.
Doty's ruling that the owners couldn't have the money under those circumstances may have been the thing that brought everyone to the table in the first place, but it also started the mediation sessions with a very bitter taste for the players — they knew, for the first time, that the owners had sold them out.
In the end, that's the discouraging thing about Goodell's letter, and the players' response — it shows how out of touch Goodell and his minions are with the facts, and it also shows that the players are angry to the point that reasonable discourse may not be possible right now. If you're a football fan, and you want to see a full season of the NFL game this year, it's time to start praying that Judge Susan Nelson enjoins the owners from locking the players out in the Brady v. NFL antitrust suit that begins on April 6.
The full text of the response letter can be seen after the jump.
March 19, 2011
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
This responds to the letter you sent to all NFL players on March 17.
We start by reminding you that we were there at the negotiations and know the truth about what happened (bold emphasis in the original letter), which ultimately led the players to renounce the NFLPA's status as the collective bargaining representative of NFL players. The players took this step only as a last resort, and only after two years of trying to reach a reasonable collective bargaining agreement and three weeks of mediation with George Cohen of the FMCS. At all times during the mediation session we had representatives at the table with the authority to make a deal. The NFL representatives at the mediation did not, and the owners were mostly absent.
The mediation was the end of a two-year process started on May 18, 2009, when our Executive Director sent you a letter requesting audited financial statements to justify your opting out of the CBA (letter attached).
The NFLPA did all it could to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement and made numerous proposals to address the concerns raised by the owners. In response, the owners never justified their demands for a massive give-back which would have resulted in the worst economic deal for players in major league pro sports.
That is why we were very troubled to see your letter, and repeated press reports by yourself, Jeff Pash, and the owners, which claim that the owners met the players halfway in the negotiations, and that the owners offered a fair deal to the players.
Your statements are false.
We will let the facts speak for themselves.
-The proposal by the NFL was not an "a la carte" proposal. The changes in offseason workouts and other benefits to players were conditioned upon the players accepting an economic framework that was unjustified and unfair.
-Your proposal called for a pegged amount for the salary cap plus benefits starting at 141M in 2011 and increasing to 161M in 2014, regardless of NFL revenues. These amounts by themselves would have set the players back years, and were based on unrealistically low revenue projections. Your proposal also would have given the owners 100% of all revenues above the low projections, including the first year of new TV contracts in 2014. Your offer did NOT meet the players halfway when it would have given 100% of the additional revenues to the owners.
-As a result, the players' share of NFL revenues would have suffered a massive decrease. This is clear by comparing your proposal to what the players would receive under the 50% share of all revenues they have had for the past twenty years.
-If NFL revenues grow at 8% over the next four years (consistent with Moody's projections), which is the same growth rate it has been for the past decade, then the cap plus benefits with our historical share would be 159M in 2011 (18M more per team than your 141M proposal) and grow to 201M per team in 2014 (40M more per team than your 161M proposal).
-Your proposal would have resulted in a league-wide giveback by the players of 576M in 2011 increasing to 1.2 BILLION in 2014, for a total of more than 3.6 BILLION for just the first four years. Even if revenues increased at a slower rate of only 5%, the players would still have lost over 2 BILLION over the next four years. These amounts would be even higher if your stadium deductions apply to the first four years (your proposal did not note any such limits on these deductions).
-We believe these massive givebacks were not justified at all by the owners, especially given recent projections by Moody's that NFL media revenues are expected to double to about 8 BILLION per year during the next TV deal.
-Given that you have repeatedly admitted that your clubs are not losing money, the billions of dollars in givebacks you proposed would have gone directly into the owners' pockets. We understand why the owners would want to keep 100% of this additional money, but trying to sell it as a fair deal to the players is not truthful.
-You proposed a CBA term of ten years. But you did not include any proposal on the players' share of revenues after the first four years, which left open entirely how much more the owners would have taken from the players.
-The owners continued to refuse to give any financial justification for these massive givebacks. Our auditors and bankers told us the extremely limited information you offered just a few days before the mediation ended would be meaningless.
-Your rookie compensation proposal went far beyond addressing any problem of rookie "busts", and amounted to severely restricting veteran salaries for all or most of their careers, since most players play less than 4 years. What your letter doesn't say is that you proposed to limit compensation long after rookies become veterans — into players' fourth and fifth years. As our player leadership told you and the owners time and again during the negotiations, the current players would not sell out their future teammates who will be veterans in a few short years.
-Your proposal did not offer to return the 320M taken from players by the elimination of certain benefits in 2010. It also did not offer to compensate over 200 players who were adversely affected in 2010 by a change in the free agency rules. Your letter did not even address a finding by a federal judge that you orchestrated new television contracts to benefit the NFL during the lockout that you imposed.
-You continued to ask for an 18 game season, offering to delay it for only one more year (you earlier said it could not be implemented in 2011 no matter what due to logistical issues). This was so even though the players and our medical experts warned you many times that increasing the season would increase the risk of player injury and shorten careers.
-All of the other elements you offered in the mediation, which you claim the players should have been eager to accept, were conditioned on the players agreeing to a rollback of their traditional share of 50/50 of all revenues to what it was in the 1980′s, which would have given up the successes the players fought for and won by asserting their rights in court, including the financial benefits of free agency the players won in the Freeman McNeil and Reggie White litigations more than 20 years ago.
-The cap system for the past twenty years has always been one in which the players were guaranteed to share in revenue growth as partners. Your proposal would have shifted to a system in which players are told how much they will get, instead of knowing their share will grow with revenues, and end the partnership.
You had ample time over the last two years to make a proposal that would be fair to both sides, but you failed to do so. During the last week of the mediation, we waited the entire week for the NFL to make a new economic proposal. That proposal did not come until 12:30 on Friday, and, when we examined it, we found it was worse than the proposal the NFL had made the prior week when we agreed to extend the mediation. At that point it became clear to everyone that the NFL had no intention to make a good faith effort to resolve these issues in collective bargaining and the owners were determined to carry out the lockout strategy they decided on in 2007.
We thus had no choice except to conclude that it was in the best interests of all NFL players to renounce collective bargaining so the players could pursue their antitrust rights to stop the lockout. We no longer have the authority to collectively bargain on behalf of the NFL players, and are supporting the players who are asserting their antitrust rights in the Brady litigation. We have heard that you have offered to have discussions with representatives of the players. As you know, the players are represented by class counsel in the Brady litigation, with the NFLPA and its Executive Committee serving as an advisor to any such settlement discussions. If you have any desire to discuss a settlement of the issues in that case, you should contact Class Counsel.
Cc: All NFL Players