NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith is again facing scrutiny as a result of player punishments that may be handed out for irresponsible or illegal conduct during the lockout this offseason.
Ten players are facing fines from the league for violating the substance abuse policy by testing positive for recreational drugs, according to two player representatives and another source familiar with the situation. An 11th player, who had previously violated the league's policy, is subject to both a fine and suspension.
According to the team reps, Smith made promises that there would be a "grace period" for players after an agreement was reached with the owners over a new collective bargaining agreement in late July. During the time that NFL players were locked out by owners, there was no testing of players because there was no CBA in place.
"I told De that this was a concern of a number of players after the lockout ended and he said, 'I got you covered,' " one of the player reps said. "I went back and told the players, 'Look, whatever it is you've been doing, you need to stop and be ready, but that we would probably have a 30-day grace period before the league started testing.
"Then we get to camp and [the league is] testing us on Day 2. Guys are looking at me like I don't know what I'm talking about. It was embarrassing. I called the union and I was told there were a lot of things that fell through the cracks at the last minute."
Said the other player rep: "Even the guys who don't worry about getting tested, they were wondering what was going on. It wasn't what everybody was led to believe and it made guys wonder what else had fallen through the cracks … ever since we approved the agreement, it's been one thing after another and we can't get straight answers on a lot of stuff."
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to comment on the issue.
Smith had previously come under attack when earlier reports surfaced that the union agreed that the league could suspend eight players for violating the personal conduct policy during the lockout. One of those players, Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson(notes), has since served a one-game suspension. Benson reportedly has subsequently filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union.
In addition, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that Smith and the union have discontinued a program known as the player advisory council. Commissioner Roger Goodell established the program in 2006 with then-NFLPA head Gene Upshaw to deal with issues such as the personal conduct policy, player conduct and player safety. Goodell met regularly with current players who were on the council.
"De Smith was not interested in continuing it as a joint program," Aiello said. "Troy Vincent heads up our Player Engagement initiative and is in regular contract with current and former players."
Atallah also declined to comment regarding that issue. However, the player reps were both concerned about that dissolving of the advisory council.
"You'd think we'd want to have direct contact with [Goodell]," one of the player reps said. "I don't understand the move at all. We'll see what De has to say."
Said the other rep: "A little strange, but it's just another [issue]. There were a lot of things that players were concerned about, like a fine schedule, the conduct policy and player safety. It just seems that the ball got dropped on a lot of stuff because everybody was so concerned about the finances. There was a lot of stuff that players cared about just as much as the finances and it got lost."