NFL Nation: George Atallah

On the NFL's hope to change up offseason

February, 22, 2013
The question becomes inevitable each February for those covering or working for the NFL.

"So, what do you do during the offseason?"

It's a reasonable question from those whose NFL experience consists of a few hours each Sunday from September through the Super Bowl in early February.

Of course, the NFL scouting combine begins two weeks after the Super Bowl. Free agency begins a couple of weeks after that. The draft follows five or six weeks later. From there, minicamps bridge most of the gap until training camps open in late July and early August.

There really isn't much of an offseason. Some offseasons feel busier and more compelling that the seasons themselves.

In that context, I see no downside to the NFL seeking a more evenly paced and structured offseason featuring the combine in March, free agency in April and the draft in May. The time between the Super Bowl and combine would expand, but the NFL would promote regional combines in the interim.

"Under the proposal, all NFL teams also would kick off training camp on the same summer day, making it the official launch of the football season," ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. "The idea is to lengthen the NFL offseason and make sure football is relevant during a longer offseason period with one big event in each month."

The league thinks a more structured offseason would allow for greater promotion of each event and greater profits. NFL players would have to sign off on the changes. Moving back the start of free agency could affect the window for players to maximize their value.

"We haven't seen any kind of proposal," George Atallah of the NFL Players Association said via Twitter. "If I had a nickel to react to every idea that was hatched at combine, well ..."
When Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop suffered a serious hamstring injury earlier this month, we noted the possibility of a new NFL rule that could help him return to the field before the end of the season. Thursday, we learned the rule has been scrapped after a disagreement between the league and the NFL Players Association.

The rule, originally approved by owners in the spring, would have created a separate designation for one injured player who wouldn't count against the 53-man roster during the first six weeks of the season. But unlike players on the traditional injured reserve list, who must miss the entire year, the designated player could return to practice after six weeks and be activated to the 53-man roster two weeks after that.

The idea was to give players who haven't suffered truly season-ending injuries a chance to play in the second half of the year and not be a roster burden in the meantime. We don't yet know if Bishop would have qualified, but the point is he definitely will be lost for the season if the Packers place him on injured reserve.

According to NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, the union rejected the rule because the NFL made it contingent on changing the restrictions on padded practices during the season under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). As in most labor issues, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
The NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is scheduled to expire in exactly two weeks. A lockout could begin immediately thereafter, hurtling the league into a state it hasn't experienced in a generation.

I realize you come to the NFC North blog for news and analysis about our four teams, and so we'll continue focusing on those teams and traditional news items as much as possible. With that said, there will occasionally be times when I think a lockout issue will have some interest in our division.

When relevant, I'll present a talking point, along with both sides of the argument and a potential solution just for kicks. Then, it will be your turn to address it in the comments section.

Tops on our list is a central question of the current dispute.

NFL owners say their business has taken a significant downturn. The NFL Players Association has asked for proof, in the form of opening their financial books. Currently, the only NFL team with open books are the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers, who claimed a $9.8 million operating profit in the most recent fiscal year. (That figure was down from $20.1 million the previous year.)

Are the Packers representative of the rest of the league? Are some teams making significantly more money? Are others losing money? These are the questions the union wants answered before accepting a smaller share of total revenue, spokesman George Atallah wrote recently in a guest commentary on
Atallah: "The players maintain that one fundamental question needs to be answered in earnest if there is to be an agreement before a lockout: Why is the current deal so bad? If owners had decided to make this a direct business transaction between partners, the players are confident a deal would've been struck a long time ago. Business partners get together, sign confidentiality agreements, exchange financials and negotiate. Our repeated requests for detailed financial information that would help us answer the quintessential question have been denied."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called that request a "negotiating ploy" during a Feb. 4 news conference. Goodell added: "The players have more than sufficient information to understand why the economics of this deal do not work."

How so? Through the Packers' financials, according to an essay written last summer by NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash.
Pash: "We have shown the union how and why the current system does not work. The Green Bay Packers' recent financial statement illustrates the point -- operating profits declining every year since 2006 while player costs continue to rise. ...

"Our Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the union extensive audit rights and access to an enormous amount of financial data on each club. This includes total revenue, total player compensation and many stadium and other costs. We have provided substantial additional information on expenses we are asking to be recognized in a new CBA.

"Companies 'open their books' when they say they are losing money. But fans should know that opening the books doesn't lead to agreements."

I understand why the NFL wouldn't want to open its books. There is the unsavory potential for a "gotcha" moment that could be embarrassing to a specific owner and, worse, irrelevant to the larger debate. And as with any other negotiation, it's always favorable to hold back as many cards as possible.

So is there a way for both sides to compromise on this issue? This isn't my idea, but it's one I've heard discussed and think it's worth considering. Couldn't the NFL and NFLPA hire a third party to examine the books under a pre-determined set of ground rules that would keep private everything but the bottom lines necessary to determine the extent to which the NFL's business has suffered?

Trust is important in any negotiation, and at this point it doesn't appear the players trust the information they've been given. Owners don't trust the players' motives for asking to see the books. So why not let an established accounting firm settle this debate once and for all? With that information in hand, wouldn't we be a lot closer to reasonable parameters of a deal? What do you think?
As we've discussed on a number of occasions, Green Bay is going to be an epicenter of the NFL's upcoming labor battle. I'm thinking we're going to move to that stage on July 29, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will make a rare appearance at the Packers' annual shareholders meeting at Lambeau Field. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith might also attend, according to a tweet from NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah.

As the NFL's only publicly owned team, the Packers annually open their books to the public. Smith has repeatedly referenced the Packers' profit margin as a sign that owners' finances aren't as dire as they have described. It will be interesting to see the extent to which this annual affair becomes a nation spectacle, especially if Smith shows up. Will the two sides try to argue opposite points based on the same financial information? I can't wait.

Earlier: The Packers raised their 2010 ticket prices to compensate for what they predicted would be lower future revenues. Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy pledges not to take the union's watchful glance into account when budgeting for player compensation.

Concussions in the NFL

November, 20, 2009
Perhaps no other division in the league has had higher-profile players with concussions this season than the NFC East. Pro Bowl running backs Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis are recovering from concussions. Westbrook suffered two concussions in a three-week span but his prognosis is good, according to specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Redskins coach Jim Zorn has described Portis as "foggy" this week and he's already ruled him out for the Cowboys game Sunday.

I bring this up because the New York Times reported Thursday that the NFL Players Association has asked for Dr. Ira Casson to be removed as co-chairman of the league's committee on concussions. It's not a surprising development in light of the fact that Casson has attempted to discredit much of the research done on the long-term effects of brain injuries in the NFL.

At a recent hearing on football brain injuries before the House Judiciary Committee, Casson was criticized for some of his opinions on the topic. He's discredited independent studies, but he's also cast doubt on league-sponsored research. Casson is currently leading an NFL study that won't produce any information until 2012 or 2013. An NFLPA official, George Atallah, told the Times on Thursday that union chief DeMaurice Smith has twice talked to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about having Casson removed from the committee on concussions.

"Our view is that he’s a polarizing figure on this issue, and the players certainly don’t feel like he can be an impartial party on this subject,” said Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director for external affairs. "The meetings between Roger and DeMaurice are private and we like to maintain confidentiality, but I believe there were concerns expressed by both parties."

You have to love the last part of that quote. We want to keep the details of those conversations private, but yes, there were "concerns" on both sides. That's confidentiality at its best. And here's the league's response:

"We can tell you that we have already informed the NFLPA of a number of steps we are considering relating to player health and safety,” including the work of the committee on brain injuries. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello added, “Mr. Smith did not initiate a discussion about Dr. Casson with the commissioner, and we don't know what purpose is served by raising it publicly at this time.”

I think Aiello knows exactly what purpose is being served by the union bringing this up publicly. Casson didn't attend the recent hearing in Washington D.C., but that didn't save him from criticism. With the help of the House Judiciary Committee, the union has painted the league into a corner. If Goodell suddenly ousts Casson, it would look like an admission that the league has taken the wrong approach on concussions.

But the alternative -- keeping Casson as the co-chairman -- will continue to give the union an easy target. Given the size and speed of players in today's NFL, I think it's more important than ever to study the long-term effects of brain injuries and then figure out what can be done to prevent them.

It's an important story and we'll continue to follow it.