Members of the NFL Players Association held a 42-minute conference call with reporters on Monday in an attempt to clear up any false information that had been circulating while also reiterating their stance in their labor dispute with the league's owners.
Saints QB Drew Brees, Colts C Jeff Saturday, 16-year NFL C Kevin Mawae and NFLPA spokesperson George Attallah each clarified many of the confusing issues surrounding the labor dispute now that the union has decertified into a trade association and the owners have locked out the players.
Brees, who is part of the lawsuit the players are filing against the league, said it was important for him to be involved on the front lines of the labor war. As one of the league's most well-known players, the Super Bowl XLIV MVP wanted fans to know that he, along with other stars such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, are as invested in the issues as the players making minimum salaries are.
"The reason I'm one of the lead plaintiffs is because it's important to me," Brees said. "I know that by doing that, I represent not only the 1,900 players in the league now, but the guys who played before us; we're basically standing on their shoulders now. They're the ones who created what we have now in this league. And we also represent the guys that are going to come after us."
All four men said that they did not want to decertify the union and that it was a last-case scenario, but they had no choice because the owners had been planning to lock them out for the past two years and forming a trade association was the best way for the players to continue to negotiate. Mawae said the union has a singular goal, something that cannot necessarily be said about the owners.
"As long as we have the chance to play football in the fall, that's what we want for ourselves and for our fans," Mawae said.
The players and owners are set to meet in court on April 6 in Minnesota District Court, and the possibility of discussions between the two sides before that is unlikely. Any future negotiations outside of court must be done with the clients in the case's council, since the NFLPA cannot negotiate on behalf of the players as a trade association.
That court hearing for the antitrust case (officially called "Tom Brady v. NFL") was set to be heard by Judge David Doty, but that has been changed to Judge Susan Nelson; Doty will still hear the argument regarding damages. While Doty has ruled in the players' favor in the past, Brees said the change in judges doesn't matter because the case "is about the facts and the law and we believe those are on our side."
Much of the call was spent discussing the differences between the two sides financially. Mawae and Brees each said that until all 32 teams open their books and show their finances, it will be impossible for the players to agree to accept a decreased salary cap.
In regards to the owners losing money, Mawae said there was "no financial proof to back that up and they've refused every request we've ever made for the proper financial data." Brees mentioned that the salary cap is based off a percentage of revenue, so those numbers are available to the players, but without access to team costs. So as the NFL revenue grows, players feel it's unfair for owners to say that costs are too high.
When negotiations do resume, there is one topic that won't be on the table: an 18-game schedule. Mawae said simply, "The 18 games is not going to happen through the NFL Players Association. We cannot justify it for the safety and health of our players. The 18 games was taken off the table the first time they proposed it, and it was not part of the proposal the last time we gave it to them, and it never will be."