Welcome everyone for a Friday afternoon chat. As always, the NFL has given us plenty to talk about in another episode of the bounty scandal. I just did an analysis of the Vilma v. Goodell lawsuit, which is now up on ESPN.com, under the NFL Nation blog. Happy to chat, let's get started.
Andrew, Vilma has an enormous burden of proof in his lawsuit, doesn't he?
Yes, it's a large burden due to the fact that he's a public figure as a well known football player. He has to show that Goodell's statements were knowingly false and directly disregarding the truth. It is a high evidentiary standard, if it even gets that far. The NFL will immediately try to dismiss the case, based on the theory of "preemption." In this case, that would mean issues between the player and commissioner are governed by the CBA and shouldn't even be in front of a judge. That will be the commissioner's first step, if it even gets beyond that and we deal with the burden of proof that Vilma has to show malice in his defamation.
Andrew, even Vilma has to know that his lawsuit is a longshot. so what do you think he's trying to accomplish?
He does have Peter Ginsberg has his attorney, who is a well known and experienced attorney, who held up the suspensions of Pat and Kevin Williams of the Vikings for 3 years, through some creative lawyering in the Minnesota state court system. So, I don't put it past Ginsberg and Vilma to at the least hold up Vilma's suspension for a time. I think like the two grievances filed by the NFLPA, this is another end run by the players to see what Goodell has on them as they've been frustrated trying to see the evidence against them.
why not just show what he's got and end this circus?
Good question. My sense is the players have seen more evidence than they have claimed they have seen, because we were told the delay in annoucing the discipline of the players was due to meetings that Goodell was having with the NFLPA. It's hard to believe in those meetings there were no shared evidence discussions. However the NFLPA and Vilma continue to say they have not seen detailed evidence. It's hard to say without knowing what that evidence is. But again, it's important to stress this: Roger Goodell successfully bargained his position as the ultimate arbitor on player conduct. That is in the new 10-year CBA. For players to now complain and make references to him being a dictator, the CBA negotiations was the time they needed to focus on that.
how slippery a slope of a precedence would it be to sue and get an overturn through a lawsuit?
That's exactly why the NFL is immediately going to try to dismiss this case through the preemption theory. They were embarrassed through the Williams fiasco and they don't want this to take a similar turn, which is take issues that were collectively bargained and bring them into the court room. I think you identified the big problem for the NFL, even more so than the defamation, which is can players take issues with the league and the commissioner outside of the CBA and into a "homecourt" like Vilma is trying to do in New Orleans?
As a former cap strategist for the Packers do you like the new slotting of pay based on draft position for rookies or do you think it hinders creative cap strategists?
That's a good question. I like the fact that it takes a lot of the guess work out of it. When I was doing rookie contracts both as an agent and with the Packers, when we did deals in May we always wondered if the deal would hold up when the rest of the market came in. Now, you know where the slot is and you can negotiate in May without worrying about being too high, too low. I do think it takes some of the negotiation strategies away from the rookie deals. For instance, it doesn't allow for a lot of upside if players become stars in their 3-4 years. That's one example of some creativity that may be lost in some deals. Having said that, if I were doing these for a team, I would probably like this system, as I could take vacation the same time as all of the coaches in June and July instead of worrying about rookie contracts.
Andrew, with the new rookie slotting, what is there to even negotiate in a rookie contract?
On the first round contracts, the issue seems to be are they fully guaranteed. There seems to be a Mendoza line about the middle of the round that goes from 4 fully guaranteed years to 3 and change. And then lower in the round, 3 fully guaranteed years. In the second round, it goes from 3 to 2 and on down the line. The other issue is called "other amounts" where some teams especially in the 2-3 rounds are giving rookies workout bonuses in later years of the contract, while other teams are just sticking to salary only. Those are some issues still to be negotiated, although this is a much lesser palate than in the prior CBA.
How closely do you think other leagues are watching this lawsuit?
I think the NFL tends to be a trend setter for the other leagues. For instance, we saw the NBA lockout follow the NFL lockout and as we know both leagues were able to wratchet down their costs through negotiations. I think the NHL saw that and we're getting ready for the NHL to try to get a better CBA this fall. But yes, this Vilma case is something to watch to see if players can take these matters outside of the CBA.
Re the concussion lawsuits, why aren't all these ex-players suing the NFLPA as well? To think the NFL knew about after effects but the union did not is crazy. They are in cahoots on almost everything. Every ex-player played under a CBA that was in place at that time. I just don't see how they can sue now and have any success with it.
Good question. I think too much of the negativity about concussions lands on the feet of the NFL. Putting even aside the NFLPA, we all know that elite football players start playing in their childhood and have been playing for 10-12 years before entering the NFL. So, their head trauma is due to a lot of collisions encountered before they became NFL players. As to the NFLPA, they were equally embarrassed when they went in front of Congress with the NFL back in 2009 about what was being done on their side for head trauma. But my sense is we will see the NFLPA mentioned at some point as a group that did not do enough for players as they face issues due to head trauma.
What's your sense of what's going on with Wes Welker? One day he says things are looking good, the next he says he feels like he's not sure what will happen. Sounds like an agent got in his ear and told him to to show his hand to the Patriots in public.
Yeah, it is an interesting twist. The key is, he signed his tender and that does two things, No. 1 it guarantees him $9.5 million. No. 2, it requires him to attend all mandatory functions such as mini camps, OTAs and training camp. My sense is what happened is when he signed the tender, he felt positive about reaching a longterm deal at the numbers he was looking for and got deeper into the negotiation specifics with his agent and found out the numbers were not what they were hoping for. I think Wes Welker has been one of the highest value players in the NFL the last couple of years and at the least, we can no longer say he'll be very underpaid, because he will make at least 9.5 million in 2012.
How can the NFLPA complain about Goodell being the sole decision maker when they themselves just signed off on it as part of the new CBA? The union looks so silly in all of this.
Yes, as we just discussed, they're trying every which way possible to get the bounty decisions out of the hands of Goodell. However, this is something they could have pushed for harder during the negotiation process, because no matter what you say, the bounty issues are conduct issues and conduct issues are completely in the area of Goodell. They signed off on that. For 9 more years, at least, Roger Goodell has that power. Again, you never know what an arbitrator or judge will do, but in my opinion, the NFL has the upper hand going into these arbitrations and court cases.
even if the NFL wins, what's to stop someone else from trying this again? Can the NFL stop it?
It's a good question. We're going to find out. The NFL, I don't know for sure, my sense is will try to have the case dismissed based on the preemption theory. If it is dismissed, that will be a big warning for the players trying to do this again. If it's not, then the possibility exists the NFL could be fighting these. But Vilma has a very high burden of proof, even if the case is not dismissed. The one thing that's certain in all of this that the big winners are the lawyers. There is no shortage of billable hours in these cases.
Andrew, are you hearing anything about anyone being displeased with the rookie cap situation, even from the rookies themselves? I would think that's a win all around.
I think even if people are displeased, those people have no voice, because those people would be rookies and/or their agents. As I wrote this week, we knew for two years that the sacrificial lambs for the new CBA would be the rookies because the veteran players had no sympathy for them. But at the top of the draft, I know it's hard to feel sorry for players making $22-23 million, but those amounts for Luck and Griffin combine for less than Sam Bradford's guaranteed money alone. Those players feel the brunt of the new CBA perhaps more than any players in the league.
Those were great questions and extremely timely with all of the rookies signing and with the Vilma lawsuit this week. I'll be back in two weeks and I'm sure we'll have more to talk about. We didn't even get to LeSean McCoy's new deal and the whole RB quandry. We'll get to those next time. I'll be Tweeting on all of this, as always, @ADBrandt. Look forward to the next time.