Shutdown Corner - NFL

Update: The NFL now states that it has denied the request for waiver described below. "We notified the law firm that while we do not know the specifics of the claims or the players who would be involved we cannot consent to the firm's request to grant a waiver," per the statement. As a matter of policy, we do not believe it is appropriate to consent to firms bringing suit against the NFL while simultaneously representing league entities even on unrelated matters."

On Wednesday, Dan Kaplan of Sports Business Journal reported that as many as 70 current NFL players have sought representation in order to join the negotiations/court case between the owners and players. Several reports indicate that this new "rogue" group wishes not to argue against the case, but, in the words of a Pro Football Weekly report, "[were] not happy that the talks between the league and players union broke off so quickly in March, and that the union decertified into a trade association while there was still time to negotiate."

And if that issue sounds a lot like the primary complaint among the owners and THEIR counsel, you may be on to something. According to — the NFLPA's primary reporting entity since the players' union decertified — the second group of players was solicited more than once by a law firm with ties to the NFL. In fact, the firm in question had to sort out an internal matter that would have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct before proceeding — as the e-mail sent to those players said, "one of our partners in our Los Angeles office has previously done work for the National Football League or its its wholly-owned subsidiaries.  Accordingly, pursuant to our internal review of this issue and the Rules of Professional Conduct, we must obtain a waiver from the NFL in order to represent players in the referenced litigation.  Requesting the waiver will alert the NFL to the players' concerns and our potential involvement relating thereto which presents tactical opportunities."

The e-mail went on to say that the request of a waiver might be denied by the NFL, but why on Earth would the league deny a waiver to a process that would appear to make the players look divided, whether they actually are or not?

The e-mail then outlined the details.

From a legal standpoint, we anticipate taking the following steps to meet the players' objectives:

1. Advise counsel for players now active in the litigation of the separate interests of our clients and the need to address those interests as a part of securing a prompt resolution of the dispute;

2. Conduct an initial meeting with counsel for players now active in the litigation on an expedited basis to detail our clients' interests and discuss how those interests can be incorporated into the current negotiations for resolution; and

3. Discuss with counsel for players now active in the litigation in our initial meeting whether the inclusion of our clients as named plaintiffs will be a positive and effective addition to the litigation team and materially advance prospects for a prompt resolution.

It is our intent to work in a cooperative fashion with the current player representatives to add to the force of the players' claims in the case based on our belief that our prospective clients' are more "typical" of the average NFL player from an interest, financial and damages perspective. In doing so, however, it is also our belief that a mutually-agreeable resolution of the current dispute is more likely if such "typical" players are more actively represented in the litigation and negotiation proceedings on an ongoing basis.

That looks pretty standard; it's the next part of the e-mail that puts an interesting face on things (the typos are theirs; did not edit the e-mail).

Per the last email I sent you the Lawyers have spoken to the NFL with regards to the issue they had with a potential conflict and their new partner in LA office. He spoke to the NFL to get their permission to move forward on you and your fellow players behalf.

The response was welcome as they said the present list of players that are in Mediation right now are not negotiating in good faith and they welcome a fresh large list of players to help bridge the gap.

This information is important as they believe the players/PA reps and counsel are acting on the idea that the judge will rule in their favor and this is a bad idea even if it does that would mean this will drag on for months or worse.

I ask you to please get the 70 players to sign onto this as fast as possible the next meeting between the parties is Tuesday therefore we have the weekend and Monday to be added to the table, you would have a voice for your own futures.

Hmmm. Does that sound like a firm acting in the best interests of the players, or more like a firm either acting in concert with the NFL, or being duped by the NFL into believing that the current class counsel isn't acting in the best interests of the whole? The "voice for your own futures" part certainly reads like this firm is trying to set up a straw man advocacy to act on the league's behalf while appearing to do the opposite.

As Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel wrote in an article today, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel(notes) contested the notion that the "rank-and-file" was not represented by the current Brady v. NFL action. "[Players] have [a seat]," Vrabel told the NFL Network after mediation sessions broke off. "That's why we're here. That's why [Minnesota's] Ben [Leber] and I are here. We're players here to represent players and De [NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith] works for us. They do [have a seat]. And if they're unhappy with that seat, we have to vote in a new executive committee, and a new board of reps."

Vrabel and Leber should know what they're talking about when it comes to being average Joes — according to Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog, Vrabel made $1.6 million in base salary, with a $1.425 million bonus and a $250,000 workout bonus in 2010. Leber made $3.95 million in base salary with a $50,000 workout bonus. Not bad numbers in comparison to the national average, but hardly upper-class when it comes to the NFL pay scale.

So, the question is, do a select group of players really feel left out, or has a law firm with a known conflict of interest with the NFL stirred up a proverbial hornet's nest in order to split the former union?

After all, football is a game of strategy at its core ... and "divide and conquer" is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

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