Union leaders spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon about the prospects of an owners lockout, a potential reality that is drawing nearer.
Fifty-two days away from March 4, the day the owners can prevent NFL players from reporting to work, the NFL Players Association's message remains status quo: They're preparing for a lockout.
"Hope for the best and prepare for the worst," said Ravens CB Domonique Foxworth, a player representative, when asked what the NFLPA's state of mind was as the deadline to work out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement draws even closer.
The union reps said they believe the NFL is playing a stall game, trying to delay negotiations until the 11th hour. NFLPA assistant executive director of external affairs George Atallah said no further negotiations were planned with the owners currently.
"Why wait until the last minute? Why procrastinate any longer?" Browns LB Scott Fujita, another player rep, asked. "I think the owners are OK with letting this thing run for a while and trying to squeeze us into doing a deal that's unfavorable to the players, and that's not fair."
One of the big issues from Tuesday's conference call — featuring Atallah and player reps Fujita and Foxworth, both of whom were injured this season — was player health and safety. The players are concerned about the effects of their health insurance being canceled with a lockout.
"A couple of players whose wives are pregnant have asked me if they should induce labor before the lockout so they'd be covered," Fujita, a linebacker for the Browns, said. "I talk all the time about the hypocrisy of the league on health and safety, so I'd say to (the NFL), 'If you really do care about health and safety, please prove it to us.' "
The NFLPA would like the league to cover the players' health insurance in the case of a lockout. Although the league has rejected this proposal, it has offered coverage under COBRA benefits if March 4 comes with no new CBA. Atallah said the union technically is allowed to pick up the cost of players' benefits, if necessary, however.
When commissioner Roger Goodell visited all 32 teams, Fujita asked him about the possibility of the players' coverage running out. Goodell's response, Fujita said, was, “Well, you’ll want to get something (a new CBA) done, then, won’t you?"
Since 2009, the union has been pushing its message that the owners are trying to lock out the players, and it has asked a special master to rule on whether the league's TV contracts, earning them more than $4 billion even if there are no games, were illegally negotiated. The union's stance is that the money, in that case, should be held in escrow and not given to the owners as a rainy-day fund for them during a lockout. (The money would have to be paid back to the networks in the future, but it essentially is like an interest-free loan.)
The special master is expected to rule on the case soon, perhaps as early as the end of the month.