NFL’s Jeff Pash: “Our commitment to fans, everyone is to reach a new CBA”

“Our commitment to everyone – to our fans, to all of the clubs and the players – is to work as hard as we can to reach a new agreement. There will be an agreement. I am very confident of that,” NFL Executive Vice President of Labor/League Counsel Jeff Pash (right) said today on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio.  

 “When someone tells you that they’re happy with the deal and we should just extend it without changing a thing, that’s a code for saying it’s a pretty one-sided deal,” Pash said.

“Let’s come up with a system that builds the game, that grows the game and that delivers better value for fans, and that’s going to take some changes,” Pash continued. “Commissioner Goodell has a vision for this league which is fundamentally optimistic: more football for more fans in more markets, more international games, more television and more use of new media, social media and digital media, which is exploding all over this country. He wants the NFL to be at the forefront of that. If we can do that, if we can continue to build and continue to grow, it’ll be better for everyone.” 

Following is the complete transcript of Pash’s interview with Mike and Mike.

NFL EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF

LABOR AND GENERAL COUNSEL JEFF PASH

MIKE AND MIKE IN THE MORNING, ESPN RADIO

Thursday, July 22, 2010

 

On CBA negotiations:

Well, the negotiations are ongoing. Our commitment to everyone – to our fans, to all of the clubs and the players – is to work as hard as we can to reach a new agreement. There will be an agreement. I am very confident of that. I can’t tell you when, but we’re going to work as hard as we can.

We have been meeting on a pretty regular basis, including as recently as earlier this week, to hash (out) issues. This is a very complicated set of agreements that we have to work on, and we’re going to keep at it. I’m optimistic.

On the urgency of signing a new CBA:

I think there is recognition that the sooner we can get something done, the better. The thing that you’re seeing right now, I think, on both sides is a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

It is really no different from what you see in the broader economy where businesses all over America are sitting on cash; they’re not hiring; and they’re not expanding because they don’t know what the economy is going to be like; they don’t know what regulation is going to be like; and they don’t know what taxes are going to be like. That uncertainty tends to freeze a lot of activity.

You’re seeing the same thing here. People don’t know. What’s the cap going to be in 2011? What will the rules be concerning player signings? What will the rookie system be going forward? That tends to cause people on both sides to sit back and wait to try to get some clarity.

I think the point you make is a very good one: the sooner we can get something done, the better.

On NFLPA stating they were willing to extend the current CBA for six years before the owners opted out:

Well, I think when someone tells you that they’re happy with the deal and we should just extend it without changing a thing, that’s a code for saying it’s a pretty one-sided deal. I think, really, what you have is two different visions.

One is let’s hang on to the status quo. We’ll take our 60 percent. We’ll continue on with a system where if a player shoots himself in a bar and goes to jail, he gets to keep his signing bonuses. We’ll continue with a system where there isn’t testing for (human) growth hormone. We’ll continue with a system where there are four preseason games where—if the fans have been clear about anything and if we’re really thinking about the fans, they don’t want those games. They don’t want to pay for those games. They’re not interested in watching those games.

(The other vision is) let’s come up with a system that builds the game, that grows the game and that delivers better value for fans, and that’s going to take some changes. Commissioner Goodell has a vision for this league which is fundamentally optimistic: more football for more fans in more markets, more international games, more television and more use of new media, social media and digital media, which is exploding all over this country. He wants the NFL to be at the forefront of that.

If we can do that, if we can continue to build and continue to grow, it’ll be better for everyone. There will be high player salaries and better benefits. We’ll be able to do more for retirees. We’ll be able to invest in player safety and new technologies and make officiating better. It’ll be a better fan experience and better quality for everyone associated with the game.

Those are the competing visions that we have. I think when someone says let’s just kick the can down the road for six years, that kind of complacency and status-quo orientation doesn’t serve the fans very well.

On money being the central issue of CBA discussions:

There is no question that economics play a role with it. There’s no question about that. I think if the clubs have shown anything, they’ve shown that they have a very good ability to grow the game and to develop revenues, 60 percent of which goes to the players.

If you look at player salaries during the last 10 years or so, they’ve gone up quite substantially, not because we’ve added players but because players are earning more money because the clubs have been working hard to build the game. That’s what we want to continue doing, and we think we can do it.

On NFLPA and players being resistant to HGH testing:

Absolutely.

On players having a problem with the personal conduct policy:

What I’m saying is that the players union has gone before the special master and before Judge David Doty and litigated cases and prevailed in those cases. They won those cases to allow players who are in jail to keep their signing bonuses. That’s what I’m saying. That’s exactly what happened.

On if a human growth hormone test exists that everyone trusts:

Well, on the very last point (that there is a test) that everyone trusts, I can’t speak for everyone, but what I can say is our understanding of the science is that there have been substantial advances and that the Olympic anti-doping authorities have validated the test.

We think it is at the point where it is appropriate to introduce it into the NFL.

On enhanced season affecting player safety:

Well, the players have talked about safety issues, and I understand that. We’re very much concerned about player safety, as well. That’s why we’re trying to encourage players to wear the best and the safest equipment. That’s why we’ve said to the players that as part of a restructuring of the season we should be looking at how we handle offseason workouts, how we handle practice regiments, how we address roster sizes and injured-reserve rules and a whole host of things that could be part of an overall restructuring of the football calendar to address the injury concern.

On NFL enhancing the season to 18 regular-season games under the current CBA:

We could say that we’re going to go to 18 games without reducing the preseason. In other words, we could go to 22 games. We’re not looking to do that. We think that the 20-game calendar, 20-game season is the right length and what we should do is deliver a season that is of greater value to our fans by having them get 18 games that they want as opposed to 16.

On the NFLPA potentially making a collusion claim:

George Young used to always say that you don’t get any activity on rookies until Bastille Day. I think at this point last year there were only two first-round picks signed.

I don’t think the level of rookie signings is indicative of anything other than the fact, other than the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty out there. People don’t know what the system is going to be like going forward. The clubs and the players have to figure this out.

I think you’ll see signings move ahead as we get closer to training camps opening and into training camps. It is a function of the uncertainty of the marketplace right now.

On a potential rookie wage scale:

I think a rookie wage scale would have a lot of very positive advantages, starting with making it possible to shift money from rookies who are untested to proven veterans and to help fund improved retiree benefits.

Your listeners may have seen this piece (by Sports Illustrated) yesterday that showed the 50 highest-paid athletes in professional sports. Five of the 50 were NFL rookies. I don’t believe there was a rookie in any other sport. The people who were on that list in other sports were proven veterans: guys like Alex Rodriguez, Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Johnson and guys who have proven themselves.

There is no reason why a player should come into the NFL and before he has his first practice is one of the highest-paid players not only in the league but in all of professional sports.

On the NFLPA’s purported conditions of a rookie wage scale:

(What NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said yesterday on the show is) not exactly how it happened. You really haven’t gotten the full story.

What happened is we went to the union – this is back in 2009 before the (2010) draft and anything else – and we said we have a number of issues that are tough issues that we have to work out, but we think there is one issue that we have a common purpose on, and that is addressing the rookie system.

We proposed to put the new rookie system in for 2010 with this year’s draft class, and we would commit that the first $100 million of savings from the rookie system would be used for retiree benefits. We’ll put them into pensions; we’ll put them into disability (assistance); and we’ll improve the ADA plan. We were open to anything the retirees think would be helpful to them.

We think it’s appropriate. We recognize that there is a genuine issue here that we can and should do better for our retired players. We thought that it was a perfectly logical place to start. The union came back to us and they said, ‘Well, first of all, we don’t like the (rookie) wage scale, so we reject that. Second of all, we want money to go to proven veterans.’ And we said, ‘That’s fine. Within the context of an overall economic system, we’re on board with that.’

Then they added two other conditions, which I don’t think you heard about yesterday. One was that rookies would be limited to signing a three-year contract, and the second was that at the end of the three-year contract, they would be unrestricted free agents.

Now that completely undermined the whole system of competitive balance in this league. It makes it impossible for teams to build and plan for the future. It makes it impossible to do sensible roster planning. It would so go counter to how the league has been built and been able to deliver the kind of quality entertainment on the playing field that fans have enjoyed. We couldn’t accept something like that. I can’t believe that the union would seriously think we would entertain something like that.

On the minimum length of a contract for rookies currently:

Four, it is currently four years. It is currently four, (and they wanted to) take a year off of that. As you know, most players in the league, especially high up in the draft, sign longer contracts. There are a lot of opportunities to extend and renegotiate and things like that.

In part, those opportunities present themselves because they don’t become unrestricted free agents until at least four years and usually longer than that.

On if CBA meetings typically focus on one subject or all of the current issues:

That is a very good question. The meetings are all different. Sometimes there is a specific agenda. We had a meeting last month, for example, where the focus was on the enhanced season. That was the focus. We laid out all of our analysis for them. We showed them exactly what we had shown the clubs at the May league meeting. We went through the whole thing, chapter and verse.

Sometimes we have meetings that are more (comprehensive). We start at ‘A’ and we go all the way through ‘Z.’ Sometimes we have smaller groups or subcommittees that meet to focus on particular issues.

As I said at the outset, we’re trying to address this in as many ways as we can, as hard as we can and with as many people working on it as we need.

I think your point about (settling) some (simpler issues) is a very good one because one way that you try to build momentum and confidence and trust—this is a unique relationship. This is not a one-way deal. We’re going to be with each other for a long time so we’ve got to have trust and confidence in each other and we’ve got to know that we can work together to make the game better for the fans.

You do that, perhaps, by taking some small steps and (saying), ‘Hey, let’s see if we can reach an agreement on testing for (human) growth hormone. That’s one step. Let’s see if we can reach an agreement on rookie (pay) and retiree benefits. That’s another step. Let’s see if we can reach an agreement on forfeitures of signing bonuses when players go to jail and breach their contracts. That’s another area.’

If we can do that, then we can build progress and the tougher issues might not be quite as tough at the end.

On a potential work stoppage:

I can tell you with complete confidence that we will work as hard as we can everyday to make sure that doesn’t happen because we know what our responsibility is to our fans.

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