NFLPA narrows list to five candidates

In what's shaping up as a contest between former NFL Players Association presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, the union narrowed its list to five candidates to succeed the late Gene Upshaw as executive director.

The Associated Press learned Thursday that Vincent and Armstrong made the most recent cut this week, when the NFLPA pared its list from nine. A person familiar with the list but not authorized to reveal the names said the other three candidates are former Bears tackle Jim Covert; Ben Utt, who played for Baltimore and Indianapolis; and Washington-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.

NFLPA president and Titans center Kevin Mawae confirmed to the AP that the number of candidates has been narrowed to five but would not say who is on the list to replace Upshaw, who died in August.

Mawae said the next step is selecting three finalists, who will meet with the union's 32 representatives at the NFLPA's annual general meeting in Hawaii in March. The next executive director will be selected by a vote then.

The names of the five candidates were first reported by The Washington Post on its Web site Wednesday.

Mawae said that sports attorney David Cornwell did not make the cut.

Cornwell was considered a strong contender because of his vast experience, which includes representing athletes in several sports; his familiarity with sports licensing in representing Upper Deck sports card company; and familiarity with the NFL office, where he spent five years as an assistant counsel.

Cornwell most recently made headlines when he represented a group of NFL players appealing suspensions for taking a diuretic that is a masking agent for steroids. He said in a statement that he was disappointed over failing to make the cut and questioned whether his background worked against him.

"The prior employment and the other unique professional experiences that I considered assets were perceived to be liabilities," Cornwell said in a prepared statement. "While I am disappointed, I will remain a forceful advocate for NFL players."

Smith is the only football outsider still in contention and had previously not been mentioned as a candidate. A partner at Patton Boggs, Smith is described in a bio on the firm's Web site as a trial lawyer who concentrates in white-collar criminal defense, has argued numerous cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals and has represented Fortune 500 companies.

He's a regular television commentator on several cable television programs but has no listed experience in labor or sports law.

Vincent and Armstrong are considered the front-runners.

A 16-year NFL veteran, Vincent completed a four-year term as union president last spring. He succeeded Armstrong, a former defensive end, who spent eight years as union president and currently works as a sports agent for Creative Artists Agency.

Armstrong declined comment when reached by the AP this week. Vincent did not return messages left with him.

They represent two separate camps as the union reaches a crossroads in selecting its first executive director since Upshaw took over in 1983.

Vincent is regarded today as a union outsider who would likely shake up the existing power structure in place during Upshaw's reign.

Upshaw had groomed Vincent as a potential successor before the two had a falling out about a year ago. Vincent was completing his four-year term as NFLPA president but was curiously overlooked by Upshaw, who instead promoted Clark Gaines to the position of assistant executive director last spring.

Vincent is currently spending time with his family in Washington and overseeing numerous business ventures.

Armstrong, by comparison, is tied to the current administration and is favored by several members of the union's executive staff. He's an agent in the same firm as Tom Condon, a former NFLPA president who previously represented Upshaw.

Covert spent eight seasons with the Bears and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade team in the 1980s. Since retiring, Covert has worked in the health care industry and currently serves as president and CEO of The Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Pittsburgh.

Utt is a former guard who played in the NFL for eight seasons in the 1980s. He works for the investment firm Invesco and is the managing director of the company's regional office in Atlanta.