Hunter Hillenmeyer breaks down the labor situation

Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer referred to a potential lockout for players on March 4 as “impending,” but he hasn’t abandoned all hope that a deal gets done before then.

Hillenmeyer and his wife had their first child five weeks ago and he pointed out that medical insurance ceases in less than three weeks for players if a new CBA isn’t hammered out. That’s a very real thing for all players.

Hillenmeyer, who is an alternate player rep for the Bears, discussed a variety of the issues in play right now this morning on The Mully & Hanley Show on the Score, WSCR-670 AM in Chicago. Here is a sampling:

So you’re calling a lockout “impending?”

HH: I guess that is the mind-set players have to have. We need to be prepared for something like that because the problem comes that if people assume it’s going to get worked out then they’re not prepared for something prolonged where things will get a little tight for some guys.

How will players remain unified when the checks aren’t coming in?

Nobody knows exactly how that would play out. It’s not a strike where they can then go and negotiate with specific players and say, ‘Listen, we know you need to get paid, why don’t you come play for this.’ It’s a lockout. It’s not like they would be able to divide and conquer and go after certain players to get them to bail on the strike. Because that wouldn’t be what is going on. Looking at our league and the history of how labor disputes have gone, there’s not really a precedent to go by.

Does it look like the owners are following a checklist of things to accomplish on their way to a lockout?

HH: If you look at the trajectory of what’s happened vs. what happened in the NHL, because I think the key from the owners’ perspective would be to negotiate to impasse and that’s actually a legal term when it comes down to negotiations. I’ve been in a negotiating session and I have a pretty good pulse on how things go and there’s not a lot of rational negotiating going on. They proposed the very first thing – 18 percent pay cuts – without much justification and we’ve had five, six, seven different versions of a response since then and there hasn’t been what I would call any substantive coming off of that very first anchor by them yet. And they know that’s not going to get a deal done. They know there is no chance that offer is going to work and so for me as a player hoping that cooler heads prevail and there is going to be football, it is kind of a frustrating exercise.

Can NFL owners really cry poor?

HH: If people push them on it, they don’t cry poor. They cry, ‘We’re not making enough.’ They try to elude to it and try to imply that is the case but you can’t find that quote anywhere.

Where do you stand on an 18-game schedule?

HH: You hear so much about player safety as it pertains to concussions and as it pertains to any injury and you see things like the Packers sort of squeaking into the playoffs with all of these injuries and countless people on injured reserve and it really does make the issue hit home. The NFL got a positive response on pushing the envelope for player safety and then turning around and saying, ‘Oh wait, we want to add a couple games to your season.’ There is just a disconnect. There is some sincerity lacking somewhere. As a player you wonder what is going on in their head if they claim that player safety is such a priority yet they are doing everything they can to eek a few more dollars out of us.

Is it important for players that the public view owners as the bad guys in this situation?

HH: Honestly, I want to be very clear, I don’t expect fans to care about this. I know they care because they want the season to play out like it always does, but I don’t think that fans are going to take sides. I am a football fan on top of playing and I want there to be football too. That sentiment is the prevailing one among players. We can fight this war of words in the media and sort of jostle in the court of public opinion, but fans just want there to be football and I totally understand that and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. The average working man like out there doesn’t get paid nearly what an average football player does. I don’t expect them to feel sorry for us. It is a disconnected from reality situation with the dollar signs that both sides of the situation are making. I just want it to get done. I want it to be done in a fair way. It’s the biggest pie in professional sports. Surely we can find a way to divide it up and make sure everybody is getting a number and whatever else comes with that, health benefits, that they feel comfortable with.

Is there any chance a deal gets done before March 4:

HH: I don’t want to say there is no chance but I certainly think the setting of our negotiations, where there are a half-dozen or so lawyers on each side, owners, players, outside legal counsel, the key people in (Jeff) Pash and (Jeffrey) Kessler, key people from our side, to me that is not going to be the setting where a deal gets done. To me, the way it has to happen, and it’s started happening, that De and Roger and I don’t know who else is involved in that, Jerry (Richardson), and a couple people on our side, four or five people get into a room and hammer out ‘This is the way it needs to work out. This is our best case for how things are going to work out.’ And then those two guys go in their separate directions and sell it. De (Smith) to the players and Roger (Goodell) to the owners because there are just too many factors. There is health care, there is revenue sharing, there is big market vs. small market teams, veterans vs. rookies, the size of the pie of itself. There are just too many inter-related factors to sit in a room with 20 people and hammer out every little detail to a point where everyone will say, ‘OK, I am comfortable with that.’ There needs to be a best case, here’s what we can do quick and dirty and then you hammer out the final details from there and we haven’t gotten to that point yet.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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