Sources: NFL-union talks canceled

Updated: February 11, 2011, 12:34 PM ET
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

NFL owners walked away from the negotiating table Wednesday when the NFL Players Association proposed to take an average of 50 percent of all revenue generated by the league, according to player sources.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith briefed club player representatives in a conference call Wednesday night, detailing his version of the abbreviated session that ended far earlier than the seven hours that were scheduled between the two sides in an effort to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires at midnight March 3.

Consequently, a five-hour second negotiating session scheduled for Thursday was canceled, and no further meetings have been proposed. Also, the NFL notified teams and owners Thursday that a scheduled owners meeting in Philadelphia next Tuesday has been canceled, sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton.

"We wish we were negotiating today," NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah said. "That's all I can say."

Wednesday's meeting in Washington started badly, one source said, when the owners' negotiating team interpreted the union's proposal of a 49 percent to 51 percent take as "total revenue," instead of the union's intended percentage take of "all revenue."

At the current revenue levels, "total revenue" has been defined as an estimated $9 billion gross, minus a $1 billion credit in the owners' favor. In the current CBA deal about to expire, the union's share has been estimated at about 60 percent of $8 billion, once the $1 billion credit was subtracted.

Owners have asked for an additional $1 billion credit -- or $2 billion in total -- before they split "total revenue" with players.

Smith has stated that the union would need to examine all of the owners' financial books before it would accept a substantial reduction in allowing the additional $1 billion credit.

To simplify talks, a player source said the union told the owners' negotiating team that it will forgo its request to examine the league's financial books by simply taking the flat 50 percent cut of "all revenue," which would eliminate $1 billion to $2 billion credits off the top and erase the definition of "total revenue."

A union source said that if the NFLPA accepted the owners' current proposal, it would receive a little more than 40 percent of all revenue.

Smith said in an interview with ESPN last week that a 40 percent to 42 percent share of all revenue would represent the smallest percentage of a players' share by any professional sports union.

In addition to the flat 50 percent share of all revenue, players are willing to grant additional credits to any franchise that reinvests in stadium improvement, a mechanism to motivate clubs to grow revenues, a player source said.

The union believes by taking a flat 50 percent share, it would eliminate the need to audit every expense clubs invest in order to offset credits built into the current CBA and the model proposed by owners going forward.

Smith also sent an e-mail, obtained by ESPN, to NFL agents on Thursday outlining the owners' latest rookie wage-scale proposal in January. He detailed how far apart the two sides are, and in an attached memo dated Jan. 26, said the NFL's latest proposal "is a veteran scale, not a rookie scale."

The NFL's owners continued to propose a five-year wage scale for first-rounders, four years for other drafted players, and no individually negotiated contracts. But, according to Smith, the owners added "league-wide base salary escalators."

Smith wrote that the owners' latest offer "makes the proposal worse not only for rookies, but for veteran players with three to five years in the league -- the core of our membership."

Also, players would not be able to renegotiate their contracts or agree to extensions until three years after they were drafted. Signing bonuses would be fixed, paid over the length of a contract and subject to forfeiture "if the player does not toe the Club's line in every way," Smith wrote.

In late September, the NFLPA proposed maximum four-year contracts for players drafted in the first three rounds, and three-year contracts for other drafted players.

The NFLPA's proposal also provided for individually negotiated contracts instead of the owners' proposed set salaries. In addition, a cap would be placed on rookie contract incentives and escalators. The money saved then would be used for a bonus pool for veteran players and rookies who outperformed their contract.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: "Despite the inaccurate characterizations of yesterday's meeting, out of respect to the collective bargaining process and our negotiating partner, we are going to continue to conduct negotiations with the union in private and not engage in a point-counterpoint on the specifics of either side's proposals or the meeting process. Instead, we will work as hard as possible to reach a fair agreement by March 4. We are fully focused on that goal."

Meanwhile, the NFLPA continued to present its side of the argument to the public. The union was a guest of American Rights at Work, which brought in a beer vendor from Ford Field in Detroit as part of a news conference in the nation's capital aimed at demonstrating the effects a lockout would have on the economy.

"Football and other major sporting events are some of the only things that bring people to downtown Detroit after 5 p.m.," said John Marler, who has worked at the stadium since 2007.

Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, said the NFL and union are fussing over many of the same issues faced by many workers: pay cuts, longer working hours, workplace safety and health care. She said a lockout would have an impact on 150,000 jobs and cause more than $160 million in lost revenue in every city with an NFL team. She called a potential work stoppage "something that could potentially have devastating consequences on our quality of life and our mental health."

"For many fans, football is just that deep to us," Brown said.

Atallah defended the union's public relations tactics.

"It is important for us to stand with the people who are here on this panel, not for any publicity issue or publicity stunt," Atallah said. "This is real life for us. This is a reality that these people face."

Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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