- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, one of the leaders in labor talks between the National Football League and its players, said Tuesday that negotiations are not going well.
"I personally am not as optimistic as some are that we are making much progress," Richardson said as he held his first press conference in nine years to discuss the departure of John Fox and the coaching search that has just begun.
Richardson's words come just after commissioner Roger Goodell sent an e-mail to an estimated five million fans saying the NFL and its players "can and will reach an agreement" on a new labor pact. But a source close to the situation said that Goodell had knowledge of what Richardson planned to say and didn't discourage it.
Richardson drew a chart to display how money has been divided between teams and players in recent years and said teams are operating with a negative cash flow. He said lawyers for the players' association have repeatedly asked for "more money and less work".
Richardson and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen are the co-chairmen of the league's labor committee. Richardson is the only owner to have played in the league. He was with the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas in the late 1950s. Richardson and Bowlen were also the point men for the league in the collective bargaining agreement that was reached in 2006.
Owners made the decision to opt out of the deal in 2008 and the agreement ends at the end of this season. There is a March 3 deadline for a deal to be reached and owners have said a lockout will follow if there is no agreement.
"I'm not optimistic we are making a lot of progress," Richardson said.
The remarks brought a strong rebuke from NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae, highlighting the gap between the two sides since the last agreement was reached in 2006. The owners opted out of the deal two years later.
"The players haven't asked for anything more. The owners want more money and more games," Mawae said, referring to owners' plans to go to an 18-game season. "The players want to play. The NFL is at its peak. This should not be that complicated."
Richardson said the two sides are spending too much time on things that are "counterproductive" and wasting valuable time.
"We understand and share Mr. Richardson's disappointment in the lack of engagement by the union and the slow pace of the negotiations," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
"As I mentioned earlier, nobody has fought for labor peace more than I have," Richardson said. "I think that would be documented if you took a survey."
Richardson was credited with helping end the stalemate five years ago when he helped reach an agreement with Gene Upshaw, the late union chief. But Richardson soon soured on the deal and has helped lead the charge for a much different deal this time.
"I would say we're the most united we have been," Richardson said of the owners.
Richardson has presided over cost-cutting in the past year with the Panthers. He oversaw the purge of numerous veterans with few experienced players brought in to replace them. He acknowledged Tuesday he didn't let coach John Fox go after last season in part because he and his staff made a combined $11.4 million this season.
Richardson also said he wouldn't sign any player to a new contract until a new CBA is reached.
"The reason is we're going to follow the CBA," Richardson said. "The CBA is something we're going to negotiate very hard for."
Richardson didn't go into much detail on the Panthers' coaching search.
He and general manager Marty Hurney said the team will consider all avenues, but indicated they would prefer to hire a coordinator from another team. The Panthers already have asked for permission to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Richardson also said there has been no contact with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
Pat Yasinskas covers the NFC South for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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