The NFL Players' Association plans to hire a national search firm, the first step in the process to select a new executive director after Gene Upshaw died last month.
The union sent out letters to each of its 32 NFL team player representatives this week seeking approval to hire a search firm, NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis said Thursday. Once approval is granted, the union's board will meet within the next few weeks to hire a firm to identify potential candidates.
Upshaw died of pancreatic cancer last month, leaving the union without an executive director while heading into a critical juncture.
The NFL has announced it will opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. If no new deal is reached by spring, there's likely to be an uncapped year in 2010, the season before the contract is expected to expire.
Interim executive director Richard Berthelsen said the most likely timetable to select a new leader is to present a short list of candidates for election at the NFLPA's annual meeting in March. Berthelsen said the number of final candidates expected to be on the ballot has not yet been determined.
The union's chief counsel, Berthelsen said the hiring shouldn't affect labor talks because it's been determined that he, with direction from the NFLPA's executive board, will be handling negotiations with the NFL.
"The choice of an executive director would not change the players' bargaining agenda," he said, adding that it's the players who determine the agenda.
Berthelsen, who had been Upshaw's top aide, has been involved with the NFLPA for more than 30 years and is its most experienced labor negotiator.
The NFLPA has established a search committee. Berthelsen and current union president and Titans center Kevin Mawae are joined by five executive committee members: Colts center Jeff Saturday, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Falcons cornerback Domonique Foxworth and free agent safety Donovin Darius.
As part of the search process, NFL players are being asked to provide a profile of strengths and background the next executive director should have to assist the firm in determining its field of candidates. Buffalo Bills union representative, tight end Robert Royal, said he favors someone who played in the NFL and has union experience.
Among the initial candidates for the job are former union presidents Troy Vincent, who completed a four-year term in March, Trace Armstrong and agent and former player Tom Condon. Former Minnesota running back Robert Smith has also expressed interest in the job.
Berthelsen wouldn't say whether he would consider being a candidate, except to say that he's informed the union that he's committed to assisting it through the duration of the labor talks. "Beyond that, I don't feel I want to comment," he said.