Biggs: The labor situation from a player's viewpoint

The NFL playoffs will take the focus, for the next few weeks, off the negotiations between the players and owners that appear to be headed nowhere.

The new league year is set to begin March 5, in 53 days, and there is no reason to believe right now that substantive progress has been made on avoiding an uncapped year in 2010 and then a potential work stoppage in 2011.

There are a host of issues to sift through. Chicago Bears middle linebacker, the team’s representative to the NFLPA the last two years, visited for a Q&A on the labor situation from his perspective.

Q: AT THIS POINT, DO PLAYERS HAVE ANY OPTIMISM THE CBA WILL BE EXTENDED?
HH: I don’t think that people will lack optimism but the signs right now point to the owners being pretty content to coast in and see where next year goes. Now, all of the past labor deals have gotten done at the 11th hour, really at the 12th hour because they pushed the deadline back and back and back. To me, it seems like it would make a lot more sense to go ahead and start negotiating now and at least get down to where you are working with smaller differences from one end to the other. But right now I think no one is really giving anything right now.

Q: WHY DO YOU SAY THE OWNERS ARE CONTENT TO COAST IN AND GO TO AN UNCAPPED YEAR?
HH: I just think that our concern is players is that the owners have put measures in place so they can still make money even if there is not football in 2011. That, as players, scares us. Somebody told me the DirecTV will still pay teams even if there are no football games. They’ve put splits in some coaches’ contracts where if there is no football, their salary scales back. They hired (Bob) Batterman, the guy that executed the NHL lockout, they hired the same guy. Obviously, they have to do what they do to prepare for whatever happens, but players are motivated and willing and ready to negotiate.

Q: WILL THE PLAYERS CONCEDE SOMETHING? ARE THE PLAYERS READY TO GIVE SOMETHING UP?
HH: As far as the exact details, we leave that to the executive committee and De (DeMaurice Smith), obviously De is going to do most of the negotiating. De has made it very clear that if you can show us financial statements that say, `Look, we’re not making money ,’ or `We’re not making a fair return,’ and I don’t know how you define a fair return, then we would be willing to consider changes. But if an owner says, `We’re not making enough money,’ but we have no idea what enough is … because if you’ve got your entire family in your organization, not specifically the Bears, profit is after people are getting paid. It’s tough. If you don’t see a financial statement then it’s hard to know, just operating in good faith, that a team isn’t making a certain amount. The only example we have is the Packers. They made 20 something million last year in a terrible economy.

Q: FROM THE LOOKS OF THINGS, THE UNCAPPED YEAR IS A BAD DEAL FOR THE PLAYERS. IS IT?
HH: The only people it could be good for is older guys like (pending free agent) Adewale (Ogunleye, a defensive end for the Bears) because there will be less people in free agency. But even then, it’s still the same number of players. That just means less teams would need more in free agency because they would be able to trap their four- to six-year guys where they are.

Q: BUT A TEAM LIKE THE BEARS, WHERE NONE OF THE 4- TO 6-YEAR PLAYERS WERE STARTERS, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVES, IT HANDICAPS THE TEAM TOO, RIGHT?
HH: That depends on a team-to-team basis. You look at the Bears and it seems to make sense that they would want a labor deal done. From a labor perspective. I think that one of the big concerns is that the biggest poison pill in there for the owners is there is no cap. If capitalism holds true, that will drive certain salaries through the roof. But there is no way that you can prove that salaries will really drive up and there wouldn’t be some sort of (collusion). I don’t know if no salary cap puts an end to (Buffalo, Green Bay, Jacksonville), but I certainly think that someone like the Redskins or Cowboys will try to buy a Super Bowl next season.

Q: AREN’T THERE MECHANISMS IN PLACE TO STOP FINAL EIGHT PLAYOFF TEAMS FROM BUYING LOTS OF FREE AGENTS?
HH: There are poison pills on both sides but it is definitely worse for the players, just in terms of the peace of mind things we lose like health care, and injury coverage. There are some scary things that happen next year. The players are certainly willing to negotiate and it’s obviously going to be a give-and-take. There are 100 different things that go into the negotiation and so it seems to me that there is opportunity for both sides to make a tradeoffs where everyone can leave the table happy. It’s just a matter of being candid enough about interests to get to that.

Q: AT ANY POINT HAVE YOU HAD INFORMAL TALKS WITH THE MCCASKEYS ABOUT THE SITUATION?
HH: I’ve talked with some of the McCaskeys but not at length. They were interested in hearing what I had to say but I think there was a conscious decision not to do too much just because if 32 owners are trying to negotiate with 32 player reps, that’s not really going to get you anywhere. On the macro scale, it needs to be De talking to a few select owners that have been sort of chosen by their side and Roger, whoever that is. It’s too complex already for it to become, `Well, I talked to my owner and they decided this could work,’ and then run that back to De. It’s complex because both sides have their own set of interests. Old players want this, younger players want that. Big markets want this, small markets want that. Then you put those two sides at the table and they also obviously have a lot of competing interests.

Q: THERE WAS A PERCEPTION THAT GENE UPSHAW AND PAUL TAGLIABUE WERE BUDDY/BUDDY AND THAT SERVED TO GET A LOT OF THINGS DONE IN THE PAST. IN YOUR OPINION, WAS THAT THE CASE? ARE THESE NEGOTIATIONS MORE DIFFICULT BECAUSE THAT DYNAMIC IS NO LONGER IN PLACE?
HH: Only time will tell if it makes it more difficult. There was definitely an element that Gene was the union, and so he had a mandate to argue for whatever he thought we needed, whether it was really what we needed or not, which in some ways is like it’s easier for the Chinese government to get something done than the U.S. government just because you can do whatever you want. But I think the only risk there would be if De came in with sort of this adversarial lawyer attitude, and he hasn’t. He’s been very communicative and trying to get everyone involved. He’s been very clear we’re willing to negotiate. Let’s sit down and talk about it. It’s not a game of finger pointing.

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