<
>

Bill could block expanded playoffs

The NFL Players Association is backing up its promise to engage in a "massive effort" to fight a proposed workers' compensation bill being pushed by the New Orleans Saints in the state of Louisiana.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith hinted to USA Today Sports on Monday that the proposed bill could even become a roadblock to expanding the NFL playoffs.

The idea of playoff expansion has been gaining momentum this offseason, though no formal proposals have been discussed during the latest round of league meetings in Atlanta.

"The players have not seen a press release from the NFL indicating that they were going to take up the issue of better workers' compensation benefits or increased injury protection benefits in light of their desire for extra playoff games," Smith told USA Today Sports. "A credible commitment to player health and safety has to include more than a group of owners voting to recommend playing more games."

Smith and many players, including Saints quarterback Drew Brees, have engaged in a public campaign against the proposed bill in Louisiana, which aims to put a limit on the amount of workers' compensation benefits that professional athletes can receive in the state.

Last week, Smith sent an email to agents advising of the "potential consequences" should their players sign with the Saints.

Essentially, the debate is over whether players should be paid workers' comp benefits based on their projected salaries or their weekly salaries at the time injuries occur.

Saints outside counsel Christopher Kane has stressed that the bill is not intended to change any current laws. Instead, he said, it is simply aiming to make permanent the way the law has been interpreted repeatedly by appellate courts and the state senate in numerous past debates.

Both Kane and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello have stressed that the proposed bill won't affect any of the injury and medical benefits that players receive as part of the league's collective bargaining agreement.

"It is a technical issue regarding how awards are calculated that codifies the current state law," Aiello said last week. "It does not affect a player's right to receive any of the league's many injury and medical benefits to which he is entitled."

At issue is how to calculate what additional workers' comp benefits the Saints are required by state law to pay players for up to 10 years after their playing careers are over.

It's a murky debate because NFL players typically earn the bulk of their salaries through weekly game checks during the regular season and are paid little during the offseason. The NFLPA argues that players will be shortchanged if they are injured during the offseason -- which would obviously be the case for established players such as Brees.

However, in many past cases where the debate has been fought at the appellate court level, injured players either weren't likely or weren't guaranteed to make the final 53-man roster. And it's tough for a court to base its ruling on whether a player would have made the team.

In six of seven cases that have reached the appellate court level, judges agreed with the Saints' interpretation of the law.

"I believe [the bill] will stop needless litigation on the issue," Kane said last week. "In our minds, it's been ruled on, let's move on."