NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has no problem with players criticizing CBA proposal

Mike Jones

INDIANAPOLIS -- When some of the NFL’s biggest stars voiced criticism over the parameters of the proposed collective bargaining agreement and NFLPA leadership earlier this week, eyebrows raised around the league.

As the 17-14 outcome of the NFL Players Association’s board of representatives vote indicated, strong and conflicting opinions between players exist over the proposal, mainly stemming from the owners’ stipulation that the regular season extends to 17 games.

However, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith doesn’t view the pointed words from players like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman and others as troubling.

Owners have agreed to increase the players’ share of the revenue pie to an estimated 48.5%. They’ll boost minimum salaries, increase roster and practice squad sizes and improve health benefits. But in exchange, they want that 17th regular-season game, which several players, including Rogers, Wilson, Watt and Sherman, view as a threat to player safety. 

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Sometime within the next week or two, the entire player body is expected vote on whether to approve the proposal. If the majority rules in favor of the deal, the new labor deal will take effect by the start of the league year.

The player reps passed the deal by a narrow vote. However, it’s unclear what kind of influence Rogers and Sherman - who voted against the proposal - will have on the entire player body, which stands at roughly 2,000.

Some players have criticized Smith and the union’s negotiators for working toward a proposal that includes the 17th game. However, others have said the positives that come with such a deal outweigh the negatives of an extended regular season. 

“Hey, look, democracy is messy,” Smith said on Thursday before entering the NFLPA’s annual agents meeting. “When you urge your players to become a part of a union, when you decide that instead of having a bubble that excludes people that you want people to become involved in your union and become reps and take leadership roles in your union, how could you ever take a position where you have an adverse feeling about them when they express their feelings? Could you imagine a world where we went through this thing and nobody cared?”

Smith said he understands why some players are averse to a lengthened regular season. But the deal's financial gains, which, according to Smith, translate to a transfer of roughly $3.5 billion from the owners’ side to the players’ side over the life of the deal, were dependent on the expansion.

“Yeah, I get that,” he said when asked about players’ opposition to 17 games. “And I think that no player would want to play an extra game, and that’s why it’s been such a long tortured process of talking about it. But that’s a conversation I had with every team that the league was conditioning an early deal on the 17th game, and that was a part of the package for an early deal.

"Remember, all of this conversation is about an early deal and a deal that gets done before expiration and that was a critical term for the players, and for the players who don’t want to 17 under any reason, those players will vote their conscience.”

Smith said no date has been set for the full player membership vote. Lawyers on both sides are crafting the formal documents that will be presented to the players for review. It’s believed that the vote will take place before the start of the league year on March 18.

Smith indicated he believes the prop will pass, drawing an end to a lengthy process that began several offseasons ago. 

Said Smith, “For the player reps, the executive committee and our staff, I’m proud of them, because all they have done for the last, really four years, first, start to think about expiration, and you know we started preparing for a work stoppage four years ago, and last year, we started talking with the league about the terms of an early CBA. So, optimism is based on the fact that I believe in the democratic process.”