Live from New Orleans, Day 2: League goes on offensive in war of words
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NEW ORLEANS -- A rundown of the news, notes and quotes from Monday at the NFL meetings:
The NFL went on the offensive in the labor dispute, sending several league officials -- including lead labor negotiator Jeff Pash -- to the podium after meetings kicked off with a briefing to owners on the situation.
In short, the league's public position is that negotiations need to resume as soon as possible with a reconstituted union, rather than speaking through counsel or taking the matter to court.
"There is going to be a labor agreement, and we don't accept the claim that the union has, quote, 'decertified' or something like that," Pash told reporters in a ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel.
"We don't accept that. We don't believe that that has, in fact, taken place. We believe it's a tactical move by the NFL Players Association. We believe they're continuing to function as a labor organization. We believe that they intend to negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement with us, and we think let's get over the falderal and get to it."
Earlier, another league official referred to the decertification as a "sham" and "a fake suicide." Pash avoided such language but nonetheless continued to heap blame on the players, who are seeking an injunction to end the lockout in a hearing on April 6.
"It was not the NFL owners who walked out of the mediation," Pash said. "It was not the NFL owners who broke off negotiations. So, it's unfortunate that we have to talk about resuming negotiations, but that's where we are, so we're prepared to do that. But I think it has to be done on a basis where we can engage in confidential, honest discussions where we can have the kind of dialogue that we were having in Washington and maybe build on some of that progress."
The league on Monday filed a paper opposing the union's motion for an injunction in part on the grounds that the National Labor Relations Board must first rule on the NFL's claim the NFLPA failed to bargain in good faith. Owners were briefed on multiple courses of action, Pash said, but details of how the league would operate if the lockout is listed were not discussed.
Instead, the league is bracing for litigation and continuing to put pressure on the union to return to the bargaining table. Pash criticized the union's cries for additional financial transparency -- "It would seem to me that, before you would make that kind of a sweeping judgment, you might actually want to look at the information and see what it says," he said -- and said the league is willing to put owners face-to-face with union decision-makers, as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and executive committee member Mike Vrabel recently suggested.
Asked why players felt they didn't have enough conversations directly with owners during mediation, Pash said, "Well, when you're a hurry to get out of the room and file lawsuits, it's understandable why there's not a lot of conversation. That's a fact."
Ticked off about kickoffs
The NFL competition committee's proposal for altering kickoffs could be tweaked before Tuesday's vote after its presentation to coaches was met by heated debate.
"It's a pretty complicated proposal," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I don't like the idea of eliminating the kickoff from the game. I think it's one of the most exciting plays in football. It looks like the competition committee is trying to eliminate that play. I don't know if that's really good for the game."
The original rules change proposed included four areas aimed at player safety: moving kickoffs up from the 30- to the 35-yard line, putting touchbacks on the 25 instead of the 20, eliminating all blocking wedges and limiting kick-coverage players to a 5-yard run-up before the kick.
The goal would be the increase touchbacks, significantly reducing the value of kickoff specialists and kick returners -- which didn't sit well with a number of coaches.
"Fortunately, this committee listened," said Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who won't decide which way to vote until seeing the final proposal, "and they are going to go back and discuss some of those suggestions and hopefully come back with something that can serve both purposes -- being able to reduce the injury risk, but at the same time not taking away what can be an exciting, game-changing play."
16: Regular-season games that will be played in 2011 and '12 seasons, assuming a work stoppage doesn't cause a disruption. Any discussion about expanding to 18 games, according to Pash, would be negotiated to begin no sooner than 2013.
0, 0: Regular-season games and compensatory picks, respectively, to be announced here. In past years, the NFL released select games -- including prime-time Kickoff Weekend and holiday tilts -- and the complete draft order during the meetings.
Votes are expected on the potential playing rule changes on Tuesday. Commissioner Roger Goodell's media conference, pushed back from Monday, also is scheduled. The meetings end on Tuesday evening.