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NFLPA chief: We’ll approach ’21 talks like ‘war’

NFLPA chief: We’ll approach ’21 talks like ‘war’

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The NFL and NFL Players Association have three years remaining on their collective bargaining agreement, and already the players are digging in. Asked Thursday if he had any hopes for a smooth agreement ahead of the deal’s 2021 expiration, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said: “No. We prepare for war.”

Speaking at his annual Super Bowl news conference, Smith added: “So if we’re able to get a collective bargaining agreement done, that’s great. But all of these men went through a unilateral declared war on players in 2010 and 2011. I think it’s important for [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] and I to have a wonderful open discussion, but he represents the owners, and we represent the players.”

Owners locked out players in the spring of 2011, wiping out offseason practices and delaying free agency before the sides reached a 10-year agreement in July 2011.

Players plan to pursue changes in the next agreement, and they are significant enough that Smith ruled out the possibility of extending the current deal.

“Everyone likes to posit that there would be some kind of extension,” he said. “This collective bargaining agreement was painfully negotiated at a time when the league secured a $4 billion war chest to basically put us out of business. There are a lot of great things about the collective bargaining agreement, but whether it’s the great things or the thing that we don’t like, collective bargaining agreements are grinding, exhausting elements that come out of two parties that want fundamentally different things. So, I could never imagine a world where you would simply put a page on the back of it that says, ‘This document is now extended until 2035.’ “

Among the desired changes, said New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie, is the issue of player discipline. The league had another series of fights with players over discipline during 2017, most notably through a six-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott.

“This is an issue that has been a thorn in our side — commissioner discipline — that we want to collectively bargain,” DeOssie said. “To allow them to have the autonomy to make those decisions, it’s obviously not good for us and it’s not good for the NFL. Any way that we can move forward and get that collectively bargained is something that we really want.”

In other news from the NFLPA news conference:

• Smith said he has had general discussions with Goodell about player injuries in Thursday night football. The injury rate for Thursday night games rose to a four-year high in 2017. Two possibilities they have discussed is placing bye weeks ahead of Thursday night games and adding additional periods of mandatory rest, Smith said.

• NFLPA president Eric Winston said he remained opposed to an 18-game season. “I don’t see how it makes the game better,” he said.

• Smith said it is “intellectually dishonest” to blame player protests for the decline in NFL television ratings. Smith also said that 2017 was one of the “most exciting and rewarding and thrilling years I’ve had in this job” because of the way players handled themselves during a season of protests.

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