Talks break down, NFL players decertify

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks to the media as he arrives to continue negotiations...

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks to the media as he arrives to continue negotiations between the NFL and the players union in Washington D.C. on March 11, 2011. (JOSHUA ROBERTS/Reuters)

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, Last Updated: 7:33 PM ET

WASHINGTON D.C. - Unable to settle differences with NFL owners, the NFL Players Association opted to decertify on Friday, opening the door for antitrust lawsuits against the league.

In a statement, the union said it "renounced its status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative" of NFL players.

"The NFLPA will move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players," the statement said.

Lead NFL negotiator Jeff Pash said no decision has been made by the owners to lock the players out and the league issued a statement that said players "left a very good deal on the table."

There hasn't been a work stoppage in the NFL since 1987.

"This is part of the process, not the end of the process," Pash said. "That's an important thing to remember."

The original collective bargaining agreement between the players and the league was set to expire last week, but the sides agreed to two extensions under the direction of federal mediator George Cohen, pushing the new deadline to Friday.

Cohen, after 17 days of negotiations, said consensuses emerged on a number of issues and differences were narrowed in others.

"Regrettably, however, the parties have not achieved an overall agreement nor have they been able to resolve, at this time, strongly-held competing views that separate them on core issues," Cohen said.

The last sticking point seemed to come when union head DeMaurice Smith said players wanted 10 years of audited financial records by Friday's deadline. Pash said owners offered to release five years of financials "and the union opted not to take them."

"The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs," the NFL release said.

The sides met at 4 p.m. for a last-ditch effort at a solution. Owners were annoyed to find that the union had notified the NFL of its plans to decertify at the same time, Pash said.

Giants owner John Mara, in a terse appearance in front of reporters, said he thinks players believed decertification gives them the best leverage and that they were never serious in negotiating.

"And unfortunately that's what collective bargaining is about," Mara said.

The lead plaintiffs in any antitrust case against the NFL were said to be quarterbacks Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.

As news broke of the decertification, Brees tweeted that players had never asked for more money during negotiations, adding: "I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for us."

The two sides have been meeting to resolve issues centering around how the owners and players should divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. A rookie wage scale, regular season expansion and benefits for retired players are also some of the unresolved differences.

The NFL said it offered to retain the current format of 16 regular season games and four pre-season contests for at least two years and not to implement an 18-game schedule without approval from the union.

It said it offered to reallocate savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without affecting players drafted in rounds 2-7. It offered not to reduce compensation for veterans, to implement year-round health and safety rules and to establish a "legacy fund" for retired players that would receive $82 million from owners over the next two years.

"Evidently, not good enough," Pash said of the league's proposal.

Cohen said that no constructive purpose would be served by asking the owners and players to continue the current mediation, but that he would be willing to facilitate future discussions if the sides asked for them.


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