NFLPA president Kevin Mawae sounded as if a lockout could be inevitable as the clock ticks on the 2010 NFL league year.
In an exclusive interview with TitanInsider, Mawae said as the league year runs out in March that players should know the reality that a lockout could be a likely scenario this spring and summer.
“I believe our players understand the reality of it. It's not like it's a last minute thing of , 'Oh my gosh, this is really gonna happen.' If they are thinking that way, then shame on them,” Mawae said. “We've spent two years now telling everyone this was a possibility. If a guy says he didn't know that this was a possibility, he's either lying to you, or he slept through our meetings. Guys know this has been coming, and they should be prepared for it.”
Players were told to stash away portions of their game checks and bonus money in the event a lockout occurred, and with no progress or talks scheduled, it might be on the horizon. No new talks have yet been scheduled.
“If they want something like a rookie salary structure in place, then they have to give a little bit. If they don't give a little bit, then it's probably going to force a lockout,” Mawae said. “If owners want to draw line in the sand, then they're probably gonna lock the doors. Players are prepared for that, all while hoping to get a deal done and save the season for next year.”
Mawae, the former Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl center, retired in 2010, but will serve out the remainder of his term until March 2012. He said Tuesday no progress has yet been made at the bargaining table. He hopes talks might pick up after the Super Bowl, but so far.
“Nothing has happened since Thanksgiving. There have been no formal meetings or anything like that. They've had informal discussions, but we've made no headway,” Mawae offered.
A lockout would not put everything on hold until a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached. When that is, no one seems to know right now. Owners voted back in 2008 to reopen the CBA, and when no new deal was reached, it meant an uncapped year in 2010 – a scenario many players, management, media and fans thought would never play out either.
One of the issues is that once owners opted out of the CBA, players wanted to see their financial records, something owners have yet to comply with.
“We still want to figure out why they opted out. The reality is the owners told us the deal economically didn't make sense for them,” Mawae said. “So we said show us where doesn't make sense, show us in the books. Show us the proof. We did not ask for one thing. All this is on the owners. The only thing we asked is for them to be open about their financial statements.”
Other issues in play that will be tied to a new labor agreement are a rookie salary overhaul, the 18-game schedule and how the revenue pie from TV and other revenue streams are divided between teams and players.
Mawae said many of those things will have to be part of the give-and-take of the negotiation process.
“They say they want a rookie salary structure in place, and an 18-game season and said they want18 percent back on player salaries,” he said..” And we told them, if you want that, then you have to be prepared to give some things back as well. We still haven't gotten a response from our counter proposal.
There are two proposals that have been sitting on their table since Thanksgiving, and we haven't heard back from them.”
In labor disputes past, especially in 1987, players gave in, as many stars crossed picket lines after owners signed replacement players. A lockout, of course, is different in that it would be initiated by management, not the union.
Of course, the question of player solidarity could be an issue again, in the event the lockout lasts long enough that potential free agents gets antsy over not knowing what their future might hold. Mawae cautioned against players being shortsighted.
“The reality of it is anytime you go into situation, some gonna be guys get caught in a pinch,” Mawae said. “Last year, there were approximately 300 or 400 restricted free agents out on the market, and it was the slowing free agent market in the history of the NFL. Those guys that fell into that, with so little movement, got hurt. … Are we gonna please everybody plays ball in the NFL? Absolutely not. Are we gonna do what's best for our guys? We're gonna try, but we've got to do what's best for future of the game.
“You can't get caught thinking on a small scale as opposed to securing long-term labor peace for the next 20 years. If you do that, then you do everyone a disservice.”
Mawae cautioned that not only are potential free agents in limbo with a lockout, but so is the 2011 draft class, which cannot be signed until a new CBA is agreed upon.
And, as Mawae pointed out, many assistant coaches are in a similar mess. Only one of the Titans assistant coaches is under contract currently, meaning they may not know their fate either in a work stoppage.
“It's all part of the equation. Everybody is in limbo, and it's not just the free agent guys. What about assistant coaches?” Mawae said. “What do you do with a guy like (offensive line coach) Mike Munchak, who has devoted his entire life to the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans organization, but management chose not to sign him and others to extensions.
"With some teams, management chose not to put in pension contributions for the last couple of seasons. That's management's decision, knowing that we were heading into an uncertain situation that management called for. It's an unfortunate circumstance.”
Mawae said the important aspect is to make sure the game is ultimately improved through the
hardships that could be soon forthcoming.
“What we're doing now is for guys hereafter and for years down the road. Hopefully, it'll get done and for future of the game, it'll get better,” he said.