Friday, July 8, 2011
Sources: Little progress made Friday
ESPN.com news services
On the same day the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis threw out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, sources tell ESPN's Sal Paolantonio very little progress was made in the NFL's labor talks.
NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith left the talks in Manhattan on Friday evening and said negotiators will not meet again until Monday. Lawyers will continue to work through the weekend, sources tell ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
The ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated Judge Susan Nelson's April 25th ruling lifting the lockout, interrupted the meeting shortly after it started Friday and consumed a lot of time as the participants digested and interpreted the ruling.
Smith also held a 3 p.m. ET conference call with player representatives from each of the 32 teams that also took up some time.
The appellate court issued its decision Friday, even as the league and its locked-out players continued negotiations in New York toward a new collective bargaining agreement in hopes of starting the 2011 season on time. The first preseason game is scheduled for Aug. 7.
The appellate court ruled that the lockout was against federal law after players argued they were suffering irreparable harm. The 8th Circuit put that order on hold, and its ruling Friday said Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
It does allow the players to go back to federal court in September and re-file their antitrust case.
"While we respect the court's decision, today's ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation," the league and NFLPA said in a joint statement. "We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season."
The court's decision came while commissioner Roger Goodell and Smith began a second straight day of negotiations aimed toward resolving the lockout.
While the two-day meeting between owners and players produced progress on most economic issues, the rookie wage scale held up negotiations on Friday, multiple sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton.
Owners were adamant about limiting the money going to the top 16 draft picks, sources said, and players rejected owners' proposals as too extreme.
Players balked at having a top-16 pick take less in guarantees than in 2010, sources said, and at five-year contracts that would diminish in salary to close to the NFL minimum by the fifth year.
For years, owners have wanted to turn back the clock on rapidly increasing rookie salaries, and the players are willing to have rookies take a drastic cut in their pay. What players didn't want to accept, according to sources, is having the 2010 $50 million guarantee shrink to $20 million for top 2011 pick Cam Newton, and then have Newton making a low base salary in his fifth season, going into free agency.
Players have been asking for four-year contracts for all first-rounders, but owners insist they can't give up significant guarantees without being able to pro-rate the signing bonus over five years.
Owners are also looking for ways to prevent agents from finding creative ways around the rookie pool. Owners have discussed instituting an annual "threshold" that, if violated, would turn the proposed wage scale into a hard rookie wage scale, according to sources.
Though agreements weren't reached during the Thursday and Friday sessions in New York, a source said progress was made on most economic issues, offering hope that a settlement could be reached next week. But the Friday battle on the rookie wage scale illustrated that many of the issues will take time to resolve.
The substance of the appellate court ruling was not a surprise to either owners or players, and is not expected to change the tenor of the negotiations. The ruling itself wasn't a surprise because it was foreshadowed in previous court opinions -- Judge Kermit Bye had said last month that neither side would be completely happy with the ruling.
The timing of it, falling as negotiations continued, did catch the owners and players off-guard, however.
In addition, rookies and all free agents can seek relief from Nelson through an evidentiary hearing to determine if the lockout applies to all players without contracts.
An absolute core issue in the discussions between owners and players is the jurisdictional oversight of any agreement. As The New York Times reported Friday, the players want a class-action settlement, which would provide them with the same jurisdictional oversight of this agreement as was the case in the post-1993 Reggie White case.
Even with an arbitration system, final appeals of grievances and disputes went to Judge David Doty in Minneapolis. In this situation, the players want those issues decided by Nelson, who has the current antitrust case.
The issue will be a signficant hurdle, based on what has been stated by both sides in the negotiations. Owners want a strict arbitration system with no federal court oversight.
Some training camps are set to open in less than three weeks. The preseason begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions and Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7 between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.
Information from ESPN national correspondent Sal Paolantonio, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.