DeMaurice Smith

NFLPA Exec Bashes Bills GM For Vaccine Comments

Back in May, Bills GM Brandon Beane said that he would release players who refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Soon after, the league office got in touch with Beane to let him know that teams cannot cut players solely for that reason. Now, NFLPA chief exec DeMaurice Smith has weighed in with his thoughts. 

[RELATED: NFL Says Teams Can’t Cut Players For Refusing Vaccine]

When a general manager speaks out and says something that is not only inconsistent with league policy, but just has a rank disregard for the rights of our players, I don’t know any other way of characterizing that other than just the stupidity that underlines it,” Smith said (via Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal.)

Given the NFL’s clarification, Smith probably doesn’t have much to worry about on this front. Still, his comments show that the players’ union will be keeping a watchful eye on the waiver wire for any questionable cuts.

Beane’s comments raise a number of questions about a player’s personal right to say no to the vaccine. Beyond that, one has to wonder how the NFL would handle this type of situation in practice. What happens if a team cuts someone for refusing the vaccine while citing their performance as the reason for the release? In that case, the union would face an uphill battle.

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NFLPA To Discuss 2021 Opt-Outs

Last year, dozens of NFL players opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith says he’ll push to extend that option into 2021 (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). 

A number of NFL locker rooms have already decided against onsite offseason workouts. That’s an indication that some players may choose to stay home this year, should the coronavirus bring new variants to the states. Of course, with vaccines having been widely administered, players are more comfortable with the idea of traveling than they were in 2020.

Chiefs guard and medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to officially opt out last summer. Scores of players followed, though most said they struggled with the decision, which was complicated by lengthy negotiations over compensation and free agency rights. This time around, Smith is hoping to solidify the terms well in advance to make things easier for players.

Meanwhile, NFLPA president and Browns center J.C. Tretter reiterated the union’s position that every player should boycott voluntary OTAs.

This is not a 2021 offseason issue. This will be an issue year after year,” Tretter said.

NFLPA Encourages Agent Collusion

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith urged agents for free agents at the same position to collude and increase leverage in a virtual meeting this week (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Smith anticipates that teams will try to cut players and dollars with the salary cap decreasing. With a bit of teamwork, Smith hopes to lessen the impact. 

The cap floor has been set at $180MM, once thought to be the potential cap ceiling. Still, the maximum is expected to be less than the $198.2MM limit from 2020. From this point forward, the cap will be largely dictated by the outcome of the league’s TV negotiations. Interestingly, Smith indicated that the cap for future seasons could still be impacted.

At the corporate level, collusion is an illegal practice. However, workers are free to collude, and use the term freely. Agents will occasionally work together to inform negotiations, but competition between player representatives sometimes gets in the way. In this unusual year, Smith wants players to be on the same page in order to get the largest deals possible.

The cap figure may fall somewhere between $182-$183MM, slightly above the agreed upon floor. It’s unlikely that the number will reach $185MM. No matter where it lands, the league will record its first salary cap decrease in over a decade.

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De Smith, J.C. Tretter On COVID-19 Latest

Union chief DeMaurice Smith and president J.C. Tretter held a conference call with media members today, during which they discussed various COVID-19 issues.

Starting on the financial side of things, Smith told reporters that the salary cap could decrease by as much as $70MM in 2021, unless the union and league come up with a solution to spread out that damage over several years (Twitter link via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com). Obviously, the union would prefer the latter option, and it has summarily rejected the NFL’s most recent economic proposals. Smith said he does not want players to bear the brunt of the financial burden when they are also the ones exposing themselves to the virus (Twitter link via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area).

Of course, the league has made the decision to start training camp on time, and Smith concedes that the union has no ability to fight that. Instead, the NFLPA’s objective is to ensure that the players are as safe as possible (Twitter link via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). To that end, the union has been in touch with team doctors, who have said, with a couple of reservations, that it is safe to open camp as planned (Twitter link via Condotta).

Indeed, a source familiar with talks between the NFL and NFLPA told Mark Maske of the Washington Post that those discussions were moving in the right direction and that there was reason to believe training camp could start on time (Twitter link). As Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network tweets, the Chiefs are telling players that camp is a go, with rookies and QBs to report for COVID-19 testing on Monday, July 20, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter) says Texans players were told the same (the Texans and Chiefs play each other in the regular season opener). The full team is scheduled to report on July 25, and Pelissero adds in a separate tweet that multiple clubs have been sending tentative reporting dates to players.

Needless to say, there is plenty that still needs to be resolved. For instance, Texans star J.J. Watt, who has been involved in player calls, said yesterday (via Twitter) that players had yet to receive a single valid Infectious Disease Emergency Response (IDER) plan, and as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe tweets, players aren’t supposed to report to camp until IDER plans have been approved. Per Graziano, “some teams” began sending to those plans to the union last night, which the union will need to review to ensure that they are in compliance with the negotiated protocols (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Tretter says that the union has consulted with team doctors in hotspot markets to discuss how to report to camp safely (Twitter link via Graziano). It’s unclear what, if any, additional protocols will be put in place for such regions, and Tretter also brought up another point that has largely been overlooked (via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk). He said, as a center, he is in close contact with every player in the offensive huddle and every defensive lineman during practice. If he tests positive, how would the league determine how many people to quarantine, and for how long?

That is one critical unanswered question, and Smith conceded there is no firm answer as to how many positive tests it would take to force an entire team to shut down. He did emphasize that the union continues to push for daily testing, which the league is still opposing.

Smith also said he is unaware of any players who have elected to opt out of the 2020 season (Twitter link via Condotta). We covered the most recent updates on the opt-out situation earlier this week.

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DeMaurice Smith On Likelihood Of 2020 Season

As a result of gradual reopening measures being instituted across the country, green lights for teams in some states to resume play, and a recent statement from the NFL indicating that the league is planning on a full season in front of full stadiums, football fans have been getting their hopes up over the past few days. But in order to continue moving forward, the league obviously needs cooperation from its players, and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is still uncertain as to whether there will be a 2020 season.

In a recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (via Mike Florio of PFT), Smith was asked if he believes games will be played in 2020. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being “absolutely certain,” Smith said, “I’m gonna go with a, you know, probably a six, seven.”

“But, you know, look, a lot depends on what happens with the other sports,” Smith continued. “And to say that we aren’t looking at what’s going to be happening in basketball and baseball — and we’re not looking at how they work through these things, we would — I’d be lying to you if we’re not. So how about if I go with six, seven on a curve?”

Smith, just like union president J.C. Tretter, is perhaps pushing back a bit to remind everyone that the union needs to be involved in the decision-making, particularly if there are going to be major logistical or financial adjustments to the standard operating procedures. Obviously, we are still nearly two months away from the start of training camp and over three months away from the start of the regular season, so there is plenty of time for the league and the NFLPA to come up with an agreed-upon course of action.

There was a report yesterday suggesting that the league could hold minicamps at the end of June, which Tretter subsequently refuted. And indeed, coaches from multiple teams tell Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that their staffs aren’t returning to team facilities until training camp (Twitter link). Even if the league and union were to authorize in-person work earlier than that, some teams would not take advantage of that opportunity and would continue to conduct matters virtually.

But if teams are able to hold training camp more or less as normal, then Week 1 can get underway just as it otherwise would. And to that end, Albert Breer of SI.com says the NFL and NFLPA joint committee on health safety are continuing to discuss various solutions (Twitter links). One proposal would see some players back in team facilities by the end of June to test protocols, followed by two to three weeks of strength and conditioning. Then, when training camp begins, helmeted practices can get underway.

Meanwhile, NFL engineers and sports equipment company Oakley are testing prototypes of facemasks that contain surgical or N95 material, per a recent report from ESPN. NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer said the new designs could feasibly cover a player’s entire facemask, and while such a design would not be a complete safeguard against the transmission of the coronavirus, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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No Vote On CBA Would Stifle 2020 Spending

While there are legitimate reasons for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to reject the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in pursuit of a better deal, a no vote would severely dampen this offseason’s free agency spending, according to a report by Mike Florio of ProFootball Talk.

Sources tell Florio that the NFLPA estimates rejecting the deal would stunt offseason spending roughly $600MM-$700MM. Since an affirmative vote on the CBA would result in an increase in the player’s portion of revenues, thus causing a relatively large spike in the salary cap over the coming years. While it would not have any immediate effects, teams would be more willing to spend now with the knowledge they would get cap relief soon.

It is worth noting, however, that the union itself seems invested in the deal’s approval since NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith has come out in favor of the deal. Thus, the NFLPA may be releasing news and notes in an attempt to sway undecided players before they vote on March 12th.

 

CBA Notes: Cap, NFLPA, Schedule, TV Deals

During what has become a layered process — featuring owners on board with the CBA, owners believing too many concessions are included, NFLPA senior reps voting yes and the other union executive committee members holding out for more — an interesting point emerged. Depending on the structure of the next round of TV contracts, Albert Breer of SI.com notes the cap could rise to nearly $300MM within three years. That would be a staggering increase, compared to the recent run of approximately $10MM-per-year spikes. This year’s cap is projected to come in around $200MM. The prospect of the cap spiking this high so soon would certainly be an incentive for players to green-light this CBA, though many issues remain going into Tuesday’s meeting.

As the NFLPA and the league’s owners prepare to huddle up for a crucial summit in Indianapolis, here is the latest on where the CBA negotiations stand:

  • While all 32 player reps and all 11 members of the NFLPA’s executive committee are believed to be in Indianapolis, a smaller group — fronted by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFLPA president Eric Winston — will meet with Roger Goodell and a handful of owners, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe (on Twitter). The 11-man executive committee has not been together for in-person negotiations since last summer, so this meeting figures to be one of the seminal chapters of these CBA talks. The NFLPA will attempt to see if one or two more sweeteners can be added to the deal in exchange for a 17-game season, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link).
  • Some owners, however, did not want to go forward with this deal, believing they have over-sweetened it for the players, per Breer. While some owners still wanted to hold out for 18 games — a subject players deemed a non-starter months ago — others against this CBA proposal voiced concerns from coaches centered around the reduction in practice time. The 2011 CBA reduced offseason work and eliminated two-a-day practices. This one will further minimize work time and contact — in exchange for the extra regular-season game.
  • The prospect of a deadline for these talks is fluid. Some within the NFLPA believe the owners would try to move forward with the TV contracts without a CBA in place, per Breer, while Dan Graziano of ESPN.com notes others within the union believe there is no urgency to make a deal now. The 2011 CBA expires in March 2021, but player fears owners would hold a work stoppage over their heads come 2021 have surfaced.
  • Both Smith and Winston are on board with this CBA, believing they’ve fought to get the owners to cave on numerous issues, Breer adds. While the $250K cap on 18th-week earnings has rankled many, the owners’ initial proposal included nothing for Game 17. This issue would seemingly be minimized once player contracts are constructed for a 17-game season, but for existing deals, NFLPA members who are currently against this CBA have made this a major issue. It figures to come up on Tuesday.
  • As for how the 17th game would be structured with regards to the schedule format, the rumored concept of 16 neutral-site games appears unlikely. Packers president Mark Murphy said (via the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, on Twitter) the likely arrangement will feature one conference’s 16 teams having an extra home game one year and the other conference’s 16 having nine home games the next. The 17th game is also likely to be a fifth interconference contest, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes.

Latest On NFL CBA Talks, Gambling

More steam is building toward a future without another NFL lockout. After a report indicating the league is increasingly motivated to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement by September to avoid the prospect oc contentious talks hanging over its 100th season, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes both sides are motivated on this front.

Part of this motivation stems from the revenue streams that legalized gambling can create, with La Canfora adding many owners are eager to see what an increased relationship with gambling can do for the league. A 2018 Supreme Court ruling opened the door to states making inroads on the gambling front, and state legislatures across the country are acting accordingly.

While a gambling component infiltrating the league could be years away, JLC adds this is being seen as a “billion-dollar” game-changer that could see future salary caps spike. The cap has gone up by approximately $10MM for most of this decade, but the new CBA — which will coincide with new television agreements and, potentially, an increased relationship with sports betting — could change that for the better.

Another sign the NFL and NFLPA are making strides: key members of both parties met recently in Chicago to discuss the CBA, Albert Breer of SI.com reports. This June 12 gathering was the third CBA-related meeting of this cycle, Breer adds, noting Roger Goodell, union chief DeMaurice Smith and select players and owners were in attendance. The other meetings occurred on April 9 and May 8, in Minneapolis and New York, respectively. A July meeting is tentatively scheduled.

Additionally, the NFLPA’s executive committee stayed in Chicago for a June 13 strategy session, per Breer. The current agreement does not expire until March 2021. The fact that the sides are meeting regularly this early points to, despite the frequent acrimony between the league and the union, a greater chance the NFL avoids the work stoppage that defined 2011.

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Extra Points: NFLPA, Rodgers, Jets, Tannehill, Dolphins, Patriots, Gillislee

NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith traveled to Houston to meet with the Texans about a potential upcoming labor battle according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. Wilson writes that Smith’s message to the team was “that it’s time to get prepared with a labor battle looming on the horizon.” The current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021, and a “potential work stoppage is a strong potential scenario” Wilson writes.

Many players have voiced their displeasure with the CBA in recent years, and it sounds like another lockout is a strong possibility. Some players have even referred to a lockout as an inevitability due to how far apart players and owners are on several key issues. The league infamously had a lockout in 2011, and it’s now widely agreed that the owners won those negotiations. The players will likely drive much harder bargains this time around, and demand greater guarantees in contracts. It will be a fascinating situation to watch develop as we get closer and closer to the expiration of the CBA.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • It was reported earlier this week that Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers was dealing with a “serious” health injury, and now Mike Garafolo of NFL Network has new details (Twitter link). Garafolo writes that it “sounds like it could be an extended absence as he focuses on his health.” Rodgers missed the Jets’ win over the Broncos today, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back anytime soon.
  • Ryan Tannehill has had a rough couple of weeks, and his performance today was so bad that it prompted reporters to ask Dolphins coach Adam Gase after the game if Tannehill would be benched moving forward. Gase responded that Tannehill wouldn’t be benched yet according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald (Twitter link), but it’s still surprising that it’s reached that point. The Dolphins have only Brock Osweiler and David Fales behind him on the depth chart.
  • It was reported earlier that the Patriots were planning on doing something to address the fact that they had just two running backs on the roster, and now we might have an idea what. New England has “been in contact” with ex-Patriot Mike Gillislee a source told Doug Kyed of NESN (Twitter link). Gillislee was recently cut by the Saints, and it sounds like we could see a reunion soon.

 

NFLPA Doesn’t See Work Stoppage Being Avoided

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season, and following its 10-year run, there looks to be a fight between the league and the NFLPA.

This has been rumored for many months, and executive director DeMaurice Smith still cannot see any way around a work stoppage being required prior to the 2021 campaign.

No. We prepare for war,” Smith said (via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com) when asked if any hopes for a smooth CBA agreement exist. “So if we’re able to get a collective bargaining agreement done, that’s great. But all of these men went through a unilateral declared war on players in 2010 and 2011. I think it’s important for [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] and I to have a wonderful open discussion, but he represents the owners, and we represent the players.”

Smith does not see any circumstances under which he would agree to extend the current CBA, but the recently reelected union boss didn’t close the door on early negotiations after the 2018 season (Twitter links via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero and the Washington Post’s Mark Maske).

This collective bargaining agreement was painfully negotiated at a time when the league secured a $4 billion war chest to basically put us out of business,” Smith said. “There are a lot of great things about the collective bargaining agreement, but whether it’s the great things or the thing that we don’t like, collective bargaining agreements are grinding, exhausting elements that come out of two parties that want fundamentally different things.

So, I could never imagine a world where you would simply put a page on the back of it that says, ‘This document is now extended until 2035.”

Player discipline will be a central issue to the next agreement, per executive committee member Zak DeOssie, as will the resistance of the long-rumored 18-game season. NFLPA president Eric Winston remains opposed, a stance the players have long held.

Smith said he’s engaged in discussions with Goodell about injuries sustained on Thursday-night games. Possible fixes suggested in those talks were possibly scheduling bye weeks in front of teams’ Thursday assignments and implementing unspecified mandatory rest periods for players. Placing byes in front of Thursday games may conflict with the league’s London agenda. Many teams given the England games prefer their bye to come after that trip, so navigating around that could be difficult.

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