NFL contract in sight … but not done yet


NFL: Friday’s notebook

Howard Fendrich/ Associated Press

Noting “progress has been made,” NFL owners and players wrapped up a round of intensive talks Friday without a full agreement to end the league’s four-month lockout, but determined to keep pushing over the weekend.

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith expects to speak with commissioner Roger Goodell in the next couple days while the two sides’ legal and financial teams continue working.

After about eight hours of negotiations in New York on Friday — tacked onto more than 25 hours across Wednesday and Thursday — the league and players issued a joint statement, saying: “The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues.”

They did not reveal details, citing a gag order imposed by the court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

“I wouldn’t dare speculate on where we are,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of six members of the owners labor committee participating Friday.

But people familiar with the discussions told the Associated Press that Friday’s talks moved beyond economic issues to cover other remaining areas where gaps need to be bridged to finish off a deal. That included player health and safety matters, such as offseason workout rules.

The aim was to build upon the significant steps made Thursday, when the framework for a rookie salary system was established, including that first-round draft picks will sign four-year contracts with a club option for a fifth year.

On another financial matter, the per-team cap figure for 2011 will be in the range of $120 million in salaries plus about $20 million or so in benefits, according to people with knowledge of the talks.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations aimed at breaking the impasse are confidential.

One person said owners first learned Thursday the NFLPA set up $200,000 in “lockout insurance” for each player if the 2011 season were lost entirely, a policy that cost at least $10 million and was taken out nearly a year ago.

That policy was first reported by SI.com.

The NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 began in March, when owners locked out players after negotiations broke down and the collective bargaining agreement expired.

Now the preseason is just a few weeks away.

The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is Aug. 7 between the Rams and Bears in Canton. The teams hope to be in training camp by next weekend.

Yet, camps won’t start before a new CBA is in place.

Boylan, who has been on vacation, ordered both sides to meet with him in Minneapolis early next week, and the owners have a special meeting set for next Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal — if one is reached by then.

Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a class-action antitrust lawsuit pending in federal court and the NFLPA’s 32 team representatives.

“We made some progress; we continue to have a lot of work to do,” Smith said as he left Friday’s session at a Manhattan law firm. “I know everybody is frustrated, and they want a definitive answer. I hate to disappoint you; you’re not going to get one right now. We’re going to continue to work, and I think that’s a positive sign.”

Retirees want say

Carl Eller , the Hall of Fame defensive end, is unhappy about how he and his fellow retirees have been treated as owners and current players negotiate a new deal to split more than $9 billion in revenue.

That deal, of course, will include retirement benefits for the former players of this dangerous sport.

Eller and other retirees have sued both the NFL and the NFL Players Association, complaining that they’ve illegally been left out of the latest talks after taking part in court-ordered mediation sessions earlier this year.

As loudly as they’ve raised their concerns, they’re not interested in derailing a deal.

“We’re not looking for a fight. We’re just looking to make things right. If football stops on our account, we don’t want to be left holding the bag. We just want what we’ve earned,” Eller said. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt the game.”

Rookie wage scale is biggest snag in bargaining


NFL: Roundup

Associated Press

New York — Less than two weeks before some training camps are scheduled to open, the NFL remains in labor limbo.

Lawyers for the two sides met Monday in New York to clarify language from previous discussions.

Several issues are close to resolution, the most significant being the split of total revenues between owners and players.

But snags involving a rookie wage scale, free agency rules and benefits for retired players have slowed the process.

While the league’s negotiators hope they can present a new collective bargaining agreement to all the owners at their July 21 meeting in Atlanta, not striking a deal before then figures to cause postponement of the start of training camps, and probably cancellation of the Hall of Fame game Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

The Rams and Bears are set to play in that game, and both teams planned to open training camp at the end of next week.

The NFL would need about a week to get the new deal ratified and in place, meaning teams couldn’t start signing free agents or draftees, make trades or begin workouts until the end of the month. That would jeopardize the first weekend of exhibitions, Aug. 11-15, at a cost of upward of $60 million in overall revenues.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners will negotiate with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and members of the players’ executive board today. Extensive negotiations last Thursday and Friday seemed promising, but the parties were unable to close the gap on the rookie wage scale — a subject that wasn’t nearly as contentious in earlier sessions.

Extra points

Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had glassy, bloodshot eyes and failed field sobriety tests during a traffic stop in Atlanta that landed him a drunken driving charge, according to a police report.

Atlanta lawyer Andrew Ree on Saturday released a statement saying Ward, 35, was not impaired by alcohol while driving and cooperated fully with police. Ree said in an email Monday that he stands by the earlier statement and had no further comment.

… A Bakersfield, Calif., man killed by authorities outside a convenience store was a former Bengals player.

Kern County sheriff’s officials say David “Deacon” Turner , 56, was fatally shot early Sunday.

Turner, who played at San Diego State, was a running back for the Bengals from 1978-80.

Chris McCosky: Roger Goodell misses chance to heal old wound for Lions fans


Chris McCosky

Allen Park— In all honesty, it probably wasn’t a fair question.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent 30 minutes answering questions from Lions season ticket holders via teleconference on Thursday. He’s either trying to reassure fans that there will be football in 2011, or trying to brace them for the opposite reality — it was tough to tell with all his talk about time being short.

Anyway, there was the commish, up to his neck in labor relations stress for the past five months, and one of the first questions he received was about the non-catch ruling against Calvin Johnson and the Lions in Week 1 last season.

“When you make bad calls,” a season-ticket holder wanted to know, “what are you going to do about it?”

Goodell took a deep breath. He probably knew that Lions fans would still be bitter about that call, but he couldn’t have thought he’d have to address it in this forum, during a lockout.

Are you kidding me?

Maybe he was caught off guard a bit — give him a slight pass for that — but he totally blew the answer. He missed a golden opportunity to heal a wound and to assuage a feeling around here that the Lions are the league’s favorite floor mat.

At the very least, he could have been empathetic. Even if he believes the rule is just and the call was right, he could have said it was tough way to start a season and praise the team for the resiliency it showed in winning its final four games.

He would have been better served by simply saying that the competition committee upheld that ruling and this wasn’t the right time or place to discuss it.

Instead, he served up the same batch of verbal slop the league spewed back in September. He explained the three elements of a catch — secure and control of the ball, maintaining control of the ball once two feet or another body part hits the ground and “you have to make sure you control the ball long enough after the first two elements have occurred.”

I am sure a collective “Ugh” went out through every person listening to the teleconference. Control the ball long enough — could that be any more vague or subjective? There isn’t a 6-year-old on the planet who would look at that play and say Johnson dropped the ball. But you get a bunch of officials together and fill their heads with vague guidelines and they can no longer recognize one of the most basic elements of the game — a catch.

Let’s be consistent

Fox 2’s Dan Miller, who hosted the teleconference, gave Goodell a chance to ease the fans’ pain by asking a leading follow-up question — trying to get him to acknowledge why the fans are bitter — but he was rejected.

“What people want is consistency and any time there is judgment, that’s sometimes when you get the inconsistency,” Goodell said. “If you are a fan of one team you look at it from one perspective. If you are a fan of another team you look at it from another perspective. You want to make it as black and white as possible and be as consistent as possible.”

Good grief. The Lions looked at it like they got robbed. The Bears looked at it like they got a gift. And as far as the rule being black and white and consistent, it is absolutely neither.

But that is beside the point here.

If it was Goodell’s intent to foster some goodwill with Lions fans, he blew it. He said a lot of interesting things during those 30 minutes, but the only thing most fans will take out of it is how he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that a mistake was made, one that cost the fans around here a good deal of anguish.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

Jerry Green: Dallas my new No. 1


Jerry Green

Years and years ago, in another century, when all this Super Bowl stuff started as a shotgun wedding between two enemy leagues, the football games were duds and the arrangements were colossal.

We’d tool off for Los Angeles, or New Orleans, or Miami — and the league functionaries would synchronize their NFL watches. Everything worked — the media interview sessions, the daily bus ventures to the team hotels to grill the athletes, the restaurants, the parties. Even the service in our jammed hotels.

All was hunky-dory — except for the football games, the primary reason for the overflow of hype.

You could walk on the sidewalks of the Super Bowl towns without the danger of skidding onto your bum — except for New Orleans on Bourbon Street. No sidewalk. There, the mobs congested across the pavement, every individual lugging a plastic cup containing some amber liquid.

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Even Detroit — cursed by my colleagues from coast to coast — excelled.

Twice!

And every human being with the wherewithal to purchase a game ticket was admitted into the Super Bowl stadium and could sit down to watch the game.

Midweek during the countdown to Super Bowl XLV in North Texas, Roger Goodell asked me to account for my good fortune to have covered all 45 of these extravaganzas.

“Timing and survival,” I responded to the Lord High Commissioner of the NFL. The truth as I see it.

“Timing and survival?” Goodell repeated.

Yep, The Detroit News promoted me to pro football beat writer late in the 1965 season. Then the merger occurred six months later, just before my actual rookie season. Super Bowl I was the result of the forced alliance between the National and American Football leagues.

And the survival — well, The News has seen fit to keep assigning me to Super Bowls, even in unofficial retirement.

I normally throw nothing away, particularly the memories. So, having covered 45 Super Bowls and having been witness to the festivities before every football game, I am asked frequently about my choice as to the best host city. Quickly praising Detroit and the marvelous work of Roger Penske and his assistant, Susan Sherer, I then mention New Orleans as a favorite town to visit.

Nobody ever considered asking me the worst Super Bowl city.

Jacksonville wins

This could stand as an apology to Jacksonville, Fla.

Li’l old Jacksonville has emerged from the cellar.

You could walk on the sidewalks there — once we were bus-lifted into town from the boonies.

Dallas, with its Texas delusions of grandeur, has flopped into last place. On my personal list, anyway.

Soon after my conversation about timing and survival had ended, it was an appropriate time for dinner. We went out to a hot steakhouse. Over-priced, too.

The walk from the hotel and the Motorola Media Center — the NFL, so needy, is selling naming rights to large press and radio rooms, too, now. It was a four-block walk. Every step was treacherous Dallas could not control the weather — and neither could Goodell — during the last days of January and the first days of February. But after the snows hit North Texas the result was civic bewilderment.

The city officials in Dallas and the preening bureaucrats throughout North Texas just don’t know how to melt ice. They lack the fundamental knowledge about how to clean snow off the streets and pavements.

Dallas has flopped into last place because walking to restaurants there during the Super Bowl — a supposed festival attracting visitors from across the globe — was flopping dangerous.

No matter what, Detroit is capable of melting ice off the streets and sidewalks without imperiling drivers and pedestrians. All of Michigan has this knowledge without any delusions of grandeur.

We cheer just when Eminem appears in a Chrysler commercial with glowing cityscapes — imported from Detroit.

Then there was the super Super Bowl snafu.

People who purchased tickets and expected to watch a football game in Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium were turned away at the gate. Their temporary seats were not approved by the fire chief in the Dallas suburb of Arlington. Some of those deprived already have filed lawsuits.

The NFL took responsibility for this failure. But Jones, swaggering, delusional owner of the Cowboys, and his helpers did not have his stadium ready for a seating emergency, according to Arlington city officials.

And ice chunks dropping from the roof of the stadium injured workers preparing the joint before the game.

There have been freezes and snow at New Orleans and Florida Super Bowl sites in the past. Those places coped with the results of the foul weather.

Keep on keeping on

Then came one more example of the Texan delusion of grandeur as I was making my escape from Dallas the other day — for California. I came upon the lead editorial in the Dallas Morning News.

Headline: “Let’s Do It Again.”

Then paragraph 5: “If you believe in North Texas as one of the nation’s premier locations to put on a big show and have a great time while doing it, you’re darn right it was.”

Well, gild the lily.

The editorial then admitted to all the mess-ups in the North Texas Super Bowl and pleaded for the NFL to ignore the failures. The editorial begged for the NFL to consider North Texas as a premier site for Super Bowl L, No. 50, in 2016. That is Jerry Jones’ newest delusion.

And that could be Goodell’s delusion, also.

The NFL is rolling forward at an overdrive speed. It is cutting corners in an economic malaise, with pro football at its peak popularity. Last Sunday’s Super Bowl hit the top rating of any TV show ever. The Nielsen ratings fact-finders announced that the game was viewed by 111 million zealots. The past four Super Bowls fit into the five highest-rated TV shows in the history of the medium, according to Nielsen.

And the NFL with its blunders in North Texas and worse, a possible lockout of the players next month, is racing into a cement wall. Contract meetings with the NFL Players Association and with the NFL owners have been canceled in the few days after the fiasco in Dallas.

This after Goodell’s annual State of the League news conference in Dallas.

“We need to have intense round-the-clock negotiations to address the issues and find a solution,” he told us.

Super Bowl XLV, despite the environment, turned into another colossal pro football game. I’m proud to be one of the nine media survivors — four writers, four photographers and the head of NFL films — who have covered all XLV of them.

I just hope there is a Super Bowl XLVI a year from now and hope to cover it.

For the NFL — and for Goodell — it’s a matter of timing and survival.