Here is the transcript from the press conference following the NFL’s special meeting at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway.
NFL teams approved the terms of a comprehensive settlement of litigation and a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association pending ratification and re-certification by the NFLPA.
NFL press conference at league meeting in Atlanta
July 21, 2011
Commissioner Goodell: Good afternoon. The clubs approved an agreement that was negotiated with the players this afternoon. In addition to approving that agreement, we also approved a supplemental revenue sharing system for the next 10 years. With this ratification and with the ratification of the NFLPA board, we will be prepared to open the training facilities beginning on Saturday, this Saturday. We will then be prepared to start the new league year next Wednesday subject to the full membership of the players ratifying the agreement and recertifying as a union. Obviously you know that we’re all under a time constraint. That’s one of the reasons we worked to get this agreement completed tonight.
We are unfortunately going to have to cancel the Hall of Fame Game this year. The time is just too short and we feel that it’s important for all 32 teams to be operating with the same number of preseason games and also starting camp at the same date or near the same date. Unfortunately we will not be there to play the game this year, but of course the (induction) ceremonies will go on. Hopefully we can all work quickly, expeditiously and get this agreement done. It is time to get back to football. That is what everyone here wants to do. We will allow our chairman, Mr. (Jerry) Richardson, who did an outstanding job, to say a few words. Before I do and before we take questions and hear from Mr. Richardson, let me just tell you how hard I think everybody in the NFL, how hard the players, how hard DeMaurice Smith worked. They’ve done an outstanding job. I think we’ve crafted a long-term agreement that can be good for the game of football. It’ll be good for the players, good for the clubs, and most importantly good for our game and for our fans. We really are anxious to get back to football. Hopefully today’s development and the developments of the NFLPA over the next few days will ensure that. I’ll hand it off to Mr. Richardson.
Jerry Richardson: Thank you, Commissioner. We all know this journey began in May 2008. It’s been long. At times it’s been very, very difficult. We’re happy to say and we feel very good about the fact that we’re confident that the players and the teams have arrived at a good place. We think we have a fair, balanced agreement. It has been a joy for me personally during these negotiations to have close contact with the players. They have been tremendous. We’ve ended up, we feel, in a very good place. Thank you.
On the situation with the NFLPA’s impending recertification as a union:
Goodell: Those are decisions that ultimately have to be made by the union about what their process is going to be and their timeline. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a sense of urgency to this. We want to have a full 2011 season that includes the four preseason games, and we’re up against the wall. I think that’s indicated by the unfortunate cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game.
On whether or not there were conversations with the NFLPA about the owners’ vote:
Goodell: Yes. I just spoke to DeMaurice probably 20 minutes ago. He’s going to go take care of his business.
On whether or not he’s “relieved” or in “wait-and-see” mode:
Goodell: I think maybe the word is exhaustion. We’ve all been working very hard. The members of the CEC, Jeff Pash, who was our lead negotiator for the owners, it’s been an incredible effort. As we indicated earlier, the players have worked equally as hard, and I think have done a fantastic job of coming up with an agreement that’s sensitive to their issues, strikes a balance between what I think are very important issues with player health and safety and the work rules, putting together the right kind of agreement that works for our retired players and also works for the growth of our game going forward and encouraging investment in our game. I think it’s an outstanding agreement from that standpoint.
On the final issues that needed to be resolved today:
Goodell: Well, you work through it like you do any other issue. You address them. You try to understand the issues, and you try to come up with a resolution. We’ve essentially had the core of an agreement for well over a week, as you all know. What we tried to do is make sure our ownership fully understood that today. They understood all ramifications, put in a supplemental revenue sharing system that I think will be good for all clubs that will continue to have the competitive balance that the league is famous for and make sure we continue the great game of football.
On what his message is to fans who have been waiting for this to be resolved:
Goodell: I understand their frustration. I hope they understand that we’re working hard to get that agreement that is going to secure the game of football for the future. We have a 10-year agreement, which I think is going to be great for everyone involved in the game, number one our fans. So I guess I’d say to them, we’re getting close to getting football back, and that’s what we want. We want to get started with football.
On whether or not this agreement will run through the 2020 season:
Goodell: That is correct.
On when free agency would begin if the players ratify the agreement tonight:
Goodell: I’m going to let Jeff Pash touch on a few of those issues.
On when free agency will open:
Jeff Pash: In the press release, there is a calendar which goes through that in detail. What we are looking at once the ratification process has been completed, there is a period where the players would come in, you would do your physicals and you would get your rosters in order. Teams can begin signing their own players – their draftees and the like – with their contracts sort of being in a state of suspended animation until the ratification is complete, but they could begin that process. Then what you would have is an opening of the new League Year, perhaps next Wednesday, July 27. At that point, free agency would begin and training camps would open.
All of that is dependent upon how the ratification process proceeds, which is not entirely in our control.
Can they recertify to meet this timetable?
Pash: We believe they could do so. That process is within their control and the timing is largely within their control, but we believe that they could do so.
On when teams can begin re-signing their own players:
Pash: Probably that will start on (July) 24 or 25. It is a little bit dependent upon where things are with the union. As we hear from them, I understand they are going to be giving some consideration to their next step this evening. Based on what we hear from them, then the calendar starts to fall in place.
As I think everybody knows, tomorrow we are going to hold a seminar for all of the club executives to go through the key terms of the agreement, the calendar and when a lot of this activity will be able to get started.
On if voluntary training can begin on July 23 prior to NFLPA recertification:
Pash: That could happen prior to recertification, yes.
On if the 2011 League Year can begin on July 27 prior to the NFLPA recertification:
Pash: If you are asking will we open a new League Year and open free agency and things like that, I would think that is unlikely to happen before recertification.
On pending litigation, specifically the Brady et al v. NFL antitrust case:
Pash: We would expect that as part of this agreement, and our understanding is that as part of this agreement, litigation will be dismissed, disputes would all be resolved and we will go forward for the next 10 years as business partners, working together for the betterment of the game and not fighting with each other in Minnesota or elsewhere.
On opening the facilities and signing qualified players prior to the start of the new League Year:
Pash: The reason is because given the compressed schedule that it makes sense for players and clubs to be able to engage in certain activity so long as no irrevocable steps are taken. If for some reason the Players Association and the players themselves elected not to ratify the agreement and we found ourselves in that posture, those contracts would obviously not take effect. If the ratification process was prolonged, people would have an opportunity to reconsider where they are.
We believe that given the calendar and given what we think is everyone’s desire to get back to football and have a full season that it makes sense to allow people to make certain initial steps as long as you aren’t making irrevocable commitments.
On if the NFL or NFLPA can opt out of the 10-year agreement:
Pash: There are not opt outs in the deal. It is a firm 10-year agreement.
On the deadline for the NFLPA to recertify:
Pash: We have not drawn a line in the sand here. We are hoping that it will proceed expeditiously. We think that the incentives are very strong for everybody for that process to proceed expeditiously.
On if the owners considered postponing the vote to ratify the comprehensive agreement:
Goodell: No. As you know, we set this meeting back in early June. It was our hope that we would be in a position to approve a deal today. We made that clear to De (Smith) and his team of negotiators and the players. We intended to come in here and get an agreement ratified and also get our supplemental revenue sharing done.
On assurances from Smith that the players would ratify the agreement and recertify the NFLPA:
Goodell: I didn’t ask him for that. I told him that we had ratified the agreement, had done our part and were anxious to get back to football.
On judicial oversight when ratified:
Pash: Under this agreement, there would be no judicial oversight. All disputes would be resolved through traditional labor mechanisms just as in other leagues or in other unionized settings.
On franchise and transition tags:
Pash: There is not a change on that. There is a change to how the value is calculated, but the franchise tag and transition tags do remain in place.
More on franchise and transition tags:
Pash: There is no limitation on the use of it if that is your question. It is a different calculation of how the base works. It is calculated as a percentage of the salary cap.
On the salary cap:
Pash: It is the salary cap, I think, pretty much as you’ve known it.
On implementing terms to address player health and safety while not adopting an 18-game schedule:
Goodell: I will let some of the owners discuss that, but it was an important issue for the ownership. We certainly recognize the health and safety issues. It was the judgment of the ownership that we should implement those health and safety changes now, continue to make our game safer and continue the dialogue about whether it makes sense to move to an 18-game schedule at some point in the future with the players’ concurrence. We would have to address several issues in the context of doing that.
On decision to cancel Hall of Fame Game:
Goodell: It was very tough. Obviously we went as long as we could. It is unfortunate with the amount of time we have. The people of Canton have been great about supporting the NFL and this game. We look forward to being there for the ceremonies. We think it is unfortunate that it has come to this. We hope that we can all work expeditiously to try to get to the point where that is the only damage.
On if the Commissioner can enforce the personal conduct policy and the status of the drug testing program:
GoodelI: I will let Jeff address that. I have not given that any thought.
Pash: Our expectation is that the personal conduct policy remains still in effect. That is the position we have taken consistently, that the Commissioner’s authority has not been changed by any aspect of this agreement.
With respect to drug and steroid policies, those are items that need to be finalized. But we have had very substantial discussions with the Players Association going back to the sessions at the federal mediation service in February and March. I think we came very close to reaching consensus on all of the critical elements. So I would expect those programs to be back in place in the 2011 season with some improvements, some strengthening, and some procedural and administrative improvements that the players were looking for.
On Judge Doty TV case and other pending cases:
Pash: We expect all litigation is resolved and over with as a result of this agreement. On workers compensation, it is a complicated issue. It is one that the clubs and the players have wrestled with. I believe that we have reached an accommodation on that issue. But I suppose we will find out when the Players Association considers the agreement.
On De Smith’s comments that recertification is an important decision:
Pash: I did not see his comments. But I agree it is a serious decision. I agree with that. There is no question about it. But again, there are very substantial incentives to do so and to ratify and conclude the agreement. It is a good agreement. It is a fair agreement. It is an agreement that will be very positive for players in many, many ways, starting but by no means limited to the new health and safety and work rules that the Commissioner outlined; the opportunity to stay in the medical plan for life; vastly improved benefits for retired players among other things – things that can only happen in the context of a unionized relationship. So there are very substantial reasons to do it. We would expect that those incentives would be responded to.
On player conduct in the offseason:
Pash: I do not know of any instance where any action has been taken where with respect to comments made — save during the season if someone said ‘I am going to go bust someone’s head in the game’ — where we might do something. But comments made in the offseason, we know that the labor negotiations have been stressful. They have been emotional. They have prompted people to say things that maybe they would not say if they reflected on it. I do not see any suggestion that there would be action taken on the basis of comments. Violations of law are covered by the personal conduct policy, and we believe that policy remains in effect, and the Commissioner’s authority under that policy is undiminished by this agreement.
On specific language with regards to an LA franchise:
Pash: Obviously the issue in Los Angeles, the big issue, is the stadium. Within the context of stadium construction projects, we do address the situation specifically in California, of course, including Los Angeles, but not necessarily limited to.
On what happens if the players do not recertify by Wednesday:
Pash: We believe and expect that we will have a fully approved and ratified agreement on a timely basis. We believe that that works for both sides. We believe that the agreement that has been negotiated – which is long, complicated and detailed – was negotiated in good faith with the intention of ratifying it. I cannot imagine that DeMaurice Smith is electing to pay all of those hours for his attorneys to negotiate an agreement that he and his membership then decide not to ratify. So we expect that we will have a ratified agreement and that we will be open with the new league year around the schedule that we have outlined for you. If that does not happen, then obviously we will have to consider what to do next. But for now, we think the reality is we have an agreement. It is a good agreement. We expect it to be ratified. We believe it can be ratified on a timely basis. If something else happens, we will have to adjust our thinking.
Do they have to recertify as a union to ratify the agreement?
Pash: That is a technical legal question that I believe Mr. Batterman would tell me the answer is no. If you are ratifying, that is something that is the act of a labor union; if you accept the premise that they are not a union in the first place.
On if there will be any changes to the appeal process for suspensions:
Goodell: We made some changes prior to the 2010 season, and we expect that we will continue with those same changes, because they were done with NFLPA approval. There are contemplated changes to the drug program that would allow them to go to a third-party arbitrator in drug cases.
On rookie wage scale:
Pash: The entry level system is one that continues to provide for individual negotiations. It is not a strict scale or slotting system. But it provides for individual negotiations within a fixed, agreed upon pool. The players will negotiate their salaries within that agreed upon structure.
On rookie wage scale:
Pash: The rookie pool we have now was one of the easier things in the world to evade. This is a much more tightly drawn system. There is an absolute ceiling on the number of dollars that can be paid in any one draft class, which was not the case before. There are agreed upon limitations on what kind of contract clauses can be written, so you don’t have the kinds of contract clauses that would allow people to evade the rookie pool in the old system. There are fixed contract lengths. There are negotiated options for the players drafted in the first round. So it’s a much more tightly drawn system, but it preserves the key thing from, what we were told was the key thing for the players, mainly the right to continue individually to negotiate compensation within in that system. It’s, if you will, a sort of a little version of the salary cap.
On salary enhancements:
Pash: Every player in the agreement will benefit from the increases in minimum salary, some of which take effect this year and then go forward. That is another example of something that you would really only have in a unionized setting. You don’t, in a non-union setting, bargain minimum salaries for 1,800 workers.
Goodell: We’re going to cut off questions, but before we do, I really would like to have the other members of the CEC that are here — four of ten members — speak. Everyone of the CEC members worked tirelessly to get to this point and did an extraordinary job and I’m grateful for their commitment and their support. So I’m going to ask the three other members who haven’t had a chance to speak to give a few comments. Let’s start with John.
John Mara: Thank you, Commissioner. Obviously, we’re very pleased to be standing here today. This was a long, tough, tough negotiation going back over about three years now. And I can’t say that we got everything we wanted to get out of this deal and I’m sure they would probably say the same thing. Usually when that happens, it means it’s a fair deal and I firmly believe that this is a fair deal. I think the best thing about it is our fans aren’t going to have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years. I’m sure that, that’s a relief for me too, quite frankly. I had enormous respect for DeMaurice Smith and for the players that we’ve negotiated with over the past three years. They were very, very tough negotiators. But at the end of the day, we were able to compromise, both sides, on a lot of different positions. And that’s why we’re able to stand here today. And hopefully this agreement will be ratified by the union and then we can just get back to playing football, that’s what we’re all looking forward to do.
Clark Hunt: It’s been a long process, a tedious process. I do think we’ve ended up with a deal that is fair to both sides. Not everyone got what they wanted in the deal but that usually is the sign of a fair agreement. I want to specifically thank the players who took part in the process – Jeff Saturday, Domonique Foxworth, and the others. Their work was tremendous. We would not be standing here today without their steadfast involvement. I can say on behalf of the Kansas City Chiefs and their fans that we’re looking forward to getting back to football.
Art Rooney II: This was a long process and hopefully we’re at the end. We are looking forward to having our players back in our facilities and getting back to football. It was unusual at times to have so many players at the negotiating table. We really appreciate the effort they put into getting a deal done and that is why we are here today.
On the significance of Jerry Richardson:
Goodell: You couldn’t ask for someone that was more supportive. He committed his time, his energy, and his leadership. He did an extraordinary job on behalf of the NFL. As a former player, he understands the players’ perspective. He listens well, and we would not be here today without his leadership. He did an extraordinary job, and I’m grateful to him.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog