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Union: NFL concessions not enough

3/10/2011 - NFL

WASHINGTON -- Players' union leader DeMaurice Smith had a lot to say Wednesday.

Smith indicated that NFL owners have lowered from $1 billion to $800 million the amount of additional revenues they want to take off the top of their $9 billion business.

The NFLPA's executive director also, according to an SI.com report, told fans during a radio station Q&A that an 18-game schedule is off the table for the union. Smith then confirmed to SI.com that an expanded regular season is something that the union would not agree to.

"First of all, the league has never presented a formal proposal for 18 games," Smith told SI.com. "But more importantly, it's something that our players don't want. Eighteen games is not in the best interest of our players' safety, so we're not doing it."

An expanded regular season was thought to be a major talking point in negotiations. Two extra games would create extra revenue and perhaps offset the NFL's $800 million request.

However, Smith also was clear when he spoke to reporters after Wednesday's negotiating session that he considers that lower figure still too high, because the league is not offering to turn over enough financial information.

Leaving the 14th day of mediated talks -- and with the extended labor contract set to expire Friday -- Smith called the information the NFL proposed to provide "utterly meaningless." The union rejected what the league offered to give -- financial information doesn't include data requested nearly two years ago by Smith in a letter to commissioner Roger Goodell.

"Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely," NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said. "And is it a subject that we're prepared to discuss? Absolutely."

Those discussions were due to resume Thursday with a handful of team owners in attendance, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Green Bay Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. They will join the New York Giants' John Mara, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Art Rooney II and the Kansas City Chiefs' Clark Hunt, who attended Wednesday's session.

At the outset of talks, the NFL sought an additional $1 billion before splitting remaining revenues with the players; the NFL already gets an immediate $1 billion for operating expenses under the old collective bargaining agreement.

The NFL Players Association, meanwhile, insists it wants full financial disclosure.

"Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn't what we asked for," Smith said, "and, according to our investment bankers and advisers, they told us that information would be utterly meaningless in determining whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League" in each year of a new CBA.

"We have requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009," Smith continued. "We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league's request to write a multibillion check to the owners."

In a letter dated May 18, 2009 -- a copy of which was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press -- Smith asked Goodell to "provide audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league."

Smith attached a list of 10 categories of information he sought, including:

• total operating income;

• total operating expenses, such as player costs, team expenses, sales and marketing expenses, game expenses, salaries/payments to owners;

• profit from operations;

• net income;

• cash and investment assets.

In the letter, Smith noted the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 as one reason "this information is critical in understanding the fair 'cost/compensation' model for players and teams."

In Minneapolis, meanwhile, the NFLPA asked the federal judge who ruled in its favor in a case involving TV contracts to release information that the NFL wants kept confidential. U.S. District Court judge David Doty sided with the players last week, saying the league illegally set up $4 billion in payments from networks -- money the union argued was collected to fund a lockout.

The NFLPA said in Wednesday's filing that the NFL hasn't explained why material should be sealed and that the league hasn't cooperated with the union's attempt to propose limited redactions to protect third-party information only.

"The NFL cannot be permitted to comment publicly about these proceedings and then turn around to embrace a cloak of confidentiality that thwarts the public's right to know," union lawyers wrote.

The league did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the filing.

On his way into Wednesday's mediation session, Pash said the issue of financial transparency -- a key sticking point in labor talks this week -- "really should be behind us."

"We've made more information available in the course of this negotiation than has ever been made available in decades of collective bargaining with the NFLPA," Pash said. "Far more information. And we've offered to make even more information [available], including information that we do not disclose to our own clubs."

Pash didn't reveal any specifics of the league's offer and wouldn't comment on the union's response. But a source told Schefter that the NFL offered to turn over five years of league-wide profitability data to the union -- and that the offer was rejected.

The NFL's proposal included:

• audited league-wide profitability data with dollar figures from 2005 to 2009, based on individual club statements;

• the number of teams that have seen a shift in profitability in that span;

• an independent auditor to examine the data.

The league thought it was the first step in the beginning of financial transparency, but it was not transparent enough for the NFLPA.

Wednesday morning's talks may have been the most critical yet in the collective bargaining process, a source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. Mediator George Cohen was meeting with a smaller group of negotiators while the larger groups await word. The financial disclosures that remain the major stumbling block in the negotiations are believed to be Cohen's focus in mediation Wednesday.

The NFLPA long has demanded that the league give it full access to financial data -- including team-by-team information -- and made that a central issue in contract talks.

"As you know, the NFLPA does not have access to a wide range of information that is directly relevant to the contention that the current CBA fails to address the owners' concerns," Smith wrote to Goodell in 2009.

"For example," the letter continued, "the NFL and the teams do not provide the NFLPA with their audited financial statements detailing the profit [loss] information for the teams. We also lack the information to discern the profits [losses] per regular season games, the profit per team per playoff game and other fixed financial non-player costs."

Smith has repeatedly made his demands for full financial information from the NFL in various media appearances throughout the past year.

Last month on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," Smith said, "Does anyone know what the profits are for every team in the National Football League? Anyone? Of course not. Does anyone know if the profits are up or down? Does anyone know whether profits have dipped by any percentage point over the last 10 years? Does anyone know what the profit projections are for the next five years?"

In September, Smith told WGR sports radio in Buffalo, N.Y., "If there is anything wrong with this deal, if any team is losing money, if any team has lost money over the last five years, if profits are trending down over the past five years, show me and I'll change the CBA."

One month earlier, appearing on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, Smith said: "What we need to see in order for it to be right is how much profit they make. That's it."

And in July, with Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio on "The Dan Patrick Show," Smith said: "Now, they want to do that, and they still want to not give us the same financial information that everybody would want. The players have simply asked one simple question. One. If you want $1 billion back from us, why? And if you want $1 billion back from us, shouldn't you be obligated to at least show us whether profits are up, profits are down or profits are flat? To me that is not an unreasonable request."

The CBA dates to 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008. The deal was set to expire last week, but two extensions now have pushed the cutoff to the end of Friday.

If a deal isn't reached by Friday, the sides could agree to another extension. Or talks could break off, which could lead to a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.

"The commissioner said 'talking is better than litigating.' Talking is better than, you know, going to DEFCON 3 or whatever term I've heard thrown around," Pash said. "So let's keep at it."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.