Sources: Panthers owner disses Manning, Brees

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson mocked quarterbacks Peyton Manning(notes) and Drew Brees(notes) during a Feb. 5 negotiating session with the NFL Players Association, says three league sources, a sign of disrespect that the union hopes solidifies its members in the pending labor battle with the NFL.

“[Richardson] was extremely condescending to them, especially toward Peyton,” a source said. “[Richardson] was the only person on either side who was contentious. Everybody else was respectful. They might have said, ‘I disagree with your point,’ but at least they were respectful. [Richardson] was not.”

Apparently, Richardson was particularly sarcastic when Manning started to talk about players' safety. At one point, Richardson evidently said, “What do you know about player safety?”

Richardson was unavailable for comment. A league source denied that there was any contentious discussion between the team owner and anyone from the union’s side.

“Mr. Richardson is a former player and made clear his respect and affection for the players during the meeting,” the source said.

While negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA have historically been marked by contentious moments, Richardson’s outburst may be especially telling for the players.

“If he’s willing to talk to [Manning] and [Brees] that way, what do you think it says about what he and the other owners think about the rest of the players?” the source said, rhetorically. “Now, it really only matters if [Richardson] is representing the opinion of 23 or even eight other owners, but it has to make you wonder.”

Richardson, who is the only former NFL player to own a team, has been considered one of the staunchest proponents of hard-line tactics in the current negotiations. Last March, Richardson addressed the rest of the NFL owners at the league’s annual spring meeting with a fiery speech. Richardson said the owners had to “take back our league” during the negotiations with players.

“We signed a [expletive] deal last time and we’re going to stick together and take back our league and [expletive] do something about it,” Richardson said, as reported by Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports.

That has been interpreted as a clear indication that Richardson and some other owners want to break the NFLPA and get players to give greater concessions. The owners are currently holding firm on a request to have an additional $1 billion in expenses be removed from the pool of shared revenue.

Currently, the NFL grosses approximately $9 billion annually. Of that, $1 billion is given to the owners off the top for expenses. After that, the remaining $8 billion is split with 60 percent ($4.8 billion) going to the players and 40 percent (another $3.2 billion for a total of $4.2 billion) going to owners.

Under the owners’ proposal, the first $2 billion would go to them. The owners have tried to sell that idea by saying the money would go toward reinvestment in the game to help grow the overall amount of money that is shared.

The players are currently unwilling to accept the owners’ proposal and are facing the likelihood of having the owners lock out the players after the March 3 deadline. In response, the union would likely decertify, leaving it vulnerable.

In that regard, Richardson’s comments to Manning could backfire on the owners. In 1987, for instance, the NFL was able to split the union in large part by creating what was known as the Quarterback Club, a marketing arm that led several top quarterbacks to stop supporting the union. In the case of Manning, who is not a player representative or member of the NFLPA’s executive board, his opinion carries great weight throughout the NFL. Last August, Manning said he would be completely supportive of the union’s cause at the proper time, but has largely stayed in the background.

Having him fully behind the union could be important to maintaining unity.