DeMaurice Smith: NFL broke the law
DeMaurice Smith said Tuesday he's happy a federal judge lifted the NFL's lockout, but he's upset the league has created a state of turmoil by allowing players to show up at team facilities, but not use their weight rooms.
"To be in a state where the National Football League is allowing this kind of chaos to occur ... I'm not sure it's a good day for football in the long run," Smith, the NFLPA's executive director, said in an appearance on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning."
Smith said he's been told that some teams gave their strength and conditioning coaches the day off Tuesday, a move he called "petty."
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"This is just not good for our fans. It's not great for our players. To be in a world where guys are showing up because they want to play football and they're being told to go home ... I'm not sure it's the right way to treat our fans," he said.
When asked if players should be allowed to work out, Smith said, "It's really a question of what's the law of the land and whether the NFL will comply with it."
"I spoke to both [Bears contract negotiator Cliff] Stein and team president Ted Phillips, and they claimed the reason players won't be able to work out is because of fiscal liability," Gould told ESPNChicago.com. "They just don't want to run the financial risk of anyone getting hurt."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said any player who shows up at team facilities will be allowed in and "treated courteously and with respect."
"We are going to proceed in an orderly way that is fair to the teams and players and complies with court orders," he said in a statement Tuesday. "We do not believe it is appropriate for football activities to take place until there are further rulings from the court. Under the last set of proposals made to the NFLPA, teams wouldn't even be into offseason programs yet. We need a few days to sort this out, as NFLPA attorney Jim Quinn indicated last night."
There was an exception Tuesday afternoon, however, as Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty worked out in the team's weight room and spoke to head coach Tom Coughlin and other staff members.
"Got a chance to get a good workout in," he added. "I am going to come back as long as the door is open. There was no tension here. Coaches are excited to have guys back in the building."
Jets players said they were granted access to the facility, but they described it as a scene from "The Shining" -- closed doors and empty hallways. Players said they saw no coaches and were told they couldn't work out because there was no supervision.
Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who has a league-high $750,000 workout bonus, said his appearance should count toward the bonus even though he couldn't work out.
"Oh, most definitely," he told ESPNNewYork.com. "I made every opportunity to avail myself to work out. But at this time I wasn't afforded that opportunity."
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson said she wouldn't rule on the NFL's request for a stay of her order until at least Wednesday, so she can hear from players (they have a 10 a.m. ET deadline to respond) -- even as attorneys for the players asked her for clarification of her order.
The players are asking Nelson to clarify what it means when she says the lockout is enjoined, according to the judge's docket. The NFLPA is trying to force the league to impose working rules or get the year started without rules. Nelson ordered the owners to respond by 6 p.m. ET Wednesday.
The NFL also has filed a notice of appeal questioning whether Nelson exceeded her jurisdiction, seeking relief from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Ultimately, it's a matter of complying with the law, Smith said.
We're all for anything that allows the players to realize their maximum potential on the free agent market. The league has grown exponentially based on the rules that have been in place over the years, but a lot of the rules that have taken place have been very restrictive on the players.” -- Kevin Mawae, NFLPA president
"The court ruled yesterday that the lockout is illegal," Smith said.
Jeff Pash, the NFL's executive vice president for labor and legal counsel, followed Smith on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" and scoffed at the notion that the NFL was breaking the law with the lockout.
"Ultimately our legal position will be sustained," Pash said. "I think it's quite a stretch to say we violated the law. We're quite confident that our position will be sustained in front of the 8th Circuit."
Pash said the NFL will take an "orderly" approach to making decisions on what teams can and can't do and that Nelson's ruling didn't take the league by surprise.
"We anticipated this as a possible outcome. We will take all steps that we need to take to comply with any court orders," he said.
If the NFL is not granted a stay, it will be required to start the new league year, and trades and free-agent signings will be allowed to occur. Because there is no current collective bargaining agreement, the NFL will have to come up with a set of rules regarding player movement.
Kevin Mawae, president of the NFLPA, told 104.5 FM in Nashville, Tenn., that the NFL can approach that task in one of two ways.
"The simplest thing they can do that can happen is they say, 'OK, we go just back to the 2010 rules. That's the way everybody can operate, everybody understands it.' But the downside for the players in that is it locks in a fifth-year player from being a free agent, it prevents player movement ...
"The most difficult thing for them to do is to restructure everything, to put a whole new system in place, within the next couple weeks."
In the 2010 rules for free agency, players needed six seasons of service before becoming unrestricted free agents when their contracts expired; previously, it was four years. The requirement for restricted free agents was four years rather than the three years before 2010. There also was no salary cap in 2010, meaning teams could spend as much -- or as little -- as they wanted.
Whatever system the league opts for, if the stay isn't granted, might be challenged by the players as part of their ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.
"We're all for anything that allows the players to realize their maximum potential on the free-agent market. The league has grown exponentially based on the rules that have been in place over the years, but a lot of the rules that have taken place have been very restrictive on the players," Mawae said.
As an example of the restrictions on players, Mawae cited the NFL draft, which this year takes place Thursday through Saturday.
"These young players coming up have no choice on what team they can go to," he said. "If indeed there was a true free-agent market, they could go out there and market themselves to any team they want to go to and choose who they want to play for instead of being told what team they're going to go play for for the next three to five years depending on what happens with the contract length."
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U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an end to the NFL lockout on April 25. Read the ruling here. Report (PDF)
When asked if the NFLPA wants to see the draft abolished, Mawae said: "I'm saying potentially if there is no draft then every kid coming out of college has the potential to negotiate a contract with any team he wants to negotiate with."
Would that be good for the league?
"It could be, it could not be," he said. "We don't know, we've never had a system where there is no draft."
In an opinion piece posted late Monday on the Wall Street Journal's website, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote that Nelson's ruling "may significantly alter professional football as we know it. ... By blessing this negotiating tactic [recognizing the players' right to dissolve their union], the decision may endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history."
Goodell also wrote that the players' antitrust lawsuit "attacks virtually every aspect of the current system including the draft, the salary cap and free-agency rules, which collectively have been responsible for the quality and popularity of the game for nearly two decades."
In his ESPN Radio appearance, Smith called Goodell's op-ed piece "bizarre."
"If he truly believes that the draft is something that we're attacking, then I don't know what's gonna happen on Thursday, but the last time I checked my calendar, the draft is scheduled to move forward," he said.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark arrived at his team's facilities Tuesday morning only to find the doors locked, which he found "hilarious," he said during an appearance on "ESPN First Take."
He said he had a talk with coach Mike Tomlin once he was in the building, but the conversation wasn't about football. He also was not allowed to work out.
But he said if the labor dispute continues in the courts, he is confident the players will prevail.
"[Judge Nelson's ruling] is going to be hard to overturn if we continue to move through this legal process. How can you find something illegal but allow it to be [overturned] in a different court?" he said.
Information from ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson, ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk and Rich Cimini and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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