Players' union lobbies for benefits
WASHINGTON — Pro football players swept across Capitol Hill yesterday and asked lawmakers to take a tough look at owners' profits as the two sides prepare to decide how to divide their big pot of TV money and other revenues.
During the lobbying visits, the NFL players' union head urged members of Congress to consider the potential impact of labor strife on retired and disabled players. They could see their benefits cut unless there is a deal soon, executive director DeMaurice Smith said.
The contract between players and owners doesn't expire for two years, but only one more season will have a salary cap. When that goes, Smith said, so does the league's responsibility for paying its share of benefits for retired and disabled players. The league denies that.
"I don't think it's morally right" for those athletes to see their benefits reduced "when a league makes $8 billion a year," Smith said during a meeting with Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and several players.
But NFL Vice President Joe Browne said in an e-mail that "there is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement that terminates pensions or disability benefits to our retired players in an uncapped year and it is wrong to suggest that this may occur if there is an uncapped season in 2010."
Two years ago, Sanchez held a hearing that highlighted problems the retirees had in fighting through red tape while trying to overcome multiple surgeries, dementia and homelessness.
Sanchez told Smith that his predecessor, the late Gene Upshaw, seemed more concerned with current than retired players. Smith responded that the union has a "moral obligation" to retired players. "We've all embraced change," he said.
"I'm glad to hear that," said Sanchez.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel told Sanchez that the union had sought a leader who could help bridge the gap between current and retired players.
Smith also wants help in getting the NFL to open its books. He said Congress has leverage because of the benefits it provides to the league, including an antitrust exemption for broadcasting contracts. That exemption allows the NFL to sign TV contracts on behalf of all teams, helping to transform the league into an economic powerhouse.
The NFL's Browne responded: "Congressmen understand and passed laws to keep labor talks such as ours at the negotiating table and out of the halls of Congress."
About 20 current and former players fanned out across the Capitol in three teams, following a negotiating session a day earlier between players and owners on a new collective bargaining agreement. Players fear that owners are setting the stage for a lockout and hope Congress can use its influence to help prevent that.
Last year the owners voted to opt out of the current agreement in 2011, raising the possibility of a work stoppage in two years. Owners contend the existing agreement is too favorable for players, who get about 60 percent of revenues.
SUGGS SIGNS $63M DEAL
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs signed a six-year, $63 million contract yesterday, making him the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history.
The contract, which assures him $38 million in guaranteed money, provides a long-term solution to Suggs' unsettled status as the team's franchise player.
"I'm looking forward to showing them that they didn't make a mistake and they got the right guy," said Suggs, the Ravens' franchise player for the past two seasons. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder had until 4 p.m. EST yesterday to work out a deal or face being stuck with the franchise tag for another year.
Three draft picks sign: Cleveland signed three draft picks — cornerbacks Don Carey and Coye Francies, and running back James Davis.
The signings were announced by the team yesterday. No contract terms were disclosed. Carey was picked out of Norfolk State, Francies played at San Jose State and Oregon State and Davis was a four-year letterman at Clemson.
Franchise on LB Dansby: Karlos Dansby will be the Arizona Cardinals franchise player for the second straight season.
The linebacker failed to reach a long-term agreement with the team by yesterday's deadline, meaning he will keep the franchise tag for the coming season. That means he will earn the average salary of the top five paid players at his position, about $9.7 million.
No long term for Peppers: The deadline for Carolina to reach a long-term deal with franchise defensive end Julius Peppers has passed without an agreement. Peppers will now play next season under a one-year deal worth at least $16.7 million.
The Panthers had until 4 p.m. EST to sign the four-time Pro Bowl pick to a deal that would secure his long-term future in Carolina and free up salary-cap space this season. Now the two sides can't discuss a new contract until the end of next season.
Favre continues to work out: Quarterback Brett Favre told The Associated Press yesterday that he'll give the Minnesota Vikings an answer on whether he'll play by the July 30 start of training camp.
"There's two weeks left and I'm doing everything I can," said Favre, who has been working out with the Oak Grove High School football team three days a week all summer in Hattiesburg, Miss. "I'm trying to get everything to where I feel 100 percent when I go in. I can't go in any less. When you're 39 years old, it's hard enough. But it's getting there."