New NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith Meets With Titans Players, Fans

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** Titans players got their chance to meet with new NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith on Thursday as the new labor chief passed through Nashville while visiting family in Franklin, Tenn.

Smith spoke on issues relating to the upcoming negotiations between the players' union and NFL owners as they begin working towards a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that expires in 2011. He later met with reporters prior to a meet and greet with fans in Nashville.

"It's nice to have 'D' here," said Titans center Kevin Mawae, president of the NFL Player's Association since 2008. "It was a coincidental thing. I wanted to get him here to meet our players. It was a good chance to introduce himself. We weren't on the plan for the flurry of visits, but it worked out well with his vacation and the fact that guys were here in town today."

The goal of Thursday's meeting was aimed at helping his teammates understand the labor issues at hand, Mawae said.

"To understand the possibility of a lockout, what that means and how it affects the players, fans and other people," Mawae said. "There's more than just players and owners involved. There are stadium workers, concession workers, people that rely on those eight paychecks a year trying to make ends meet. It's not just about billionaire owners and millionaire players. It goes way beyond that."

Last year NFL owners opted out of the original agreement that was to last through 2013, citing economic problems that make the nearly 60 percent of revenues that go to the players excessive. Many teams as well as the league office have since laid off hundreds of employees.

If there is no agreement by March, the 2010 season will be the first without a salary cap since 1993, when the first deal containing free agency and the cap was signed. That followed more than five years without a contract following the 1987 strike, when the union decertified and took its case to federal court.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week there is no set timetable in which to get a deal done.

"We are focused on getting an agreement that works for the long term. We're not specifically setting any deadlines or dates," Goodell said. "Our issue is we know we have two more years of football. We would like to have an agreement that works for everybody in that period of time. If it takes up to the final moment, it takes up to the final moment."

Smith has had preliminary discussions with Goodell and seems optimistic that a new deal can eventually get done.

"This game is a tremendous game, it's also a tremendous business," Smith said. "I'm happy to say that we've gotten to the business of starting to talk about a new CBA and trying to figure out why the owners opted out two years after it was signed. We're a partnership and I'm sure that we'll get an explanation of why the deal didn't work in the eyes of some of the owners.

"You will have an unwavering commitment on behalf of these players to get to the business of trying to make sure that football is going to be played. The fans will not have to worry one single day that the players aren't going to work tirelessly to try to make sure that we get a deal sooner rather than later."

Smith spoke on a variety of topics, including:

The possibility of extending to an 18-game season:

"I stand where the players stand. Look, these guys understand the cost of playing football. They understand the risk of playing football. When it comes down to the talk of adding two more games to this regular season, the players understand the cost. What they don't understand right now is the right way to talk about the right cost compensation model because the players don't know. What does the average team make per game? What does the average team make per playoff game? They understand the cost. Right now they are asking how we get the right information so that we can understand what a fair deal on a cost compensation model is if this is what we want to do."

What he considers a fair revenue sharing ratio between owners and players:

"A fair understanding of what the economics are. I think you have to start there. You and I can sit back all day and guess as to what's fair, but if you don't know what the underlying economics are, how do you know if you're right? I think we have to start where everybody has a basic understanding of the economics of the business, and then you do what you do every day – you reach and you talk about what's a fair deal."

On if he sees negotiations becoming ugly at some point:

"No, I don't. I'm optimistic, I really am. Our guys want to play. I know our fans want to play football. I know 40 million people watched the NFL Draft. I know there are guys reporting in record numbers for off-season workouts. I'm optimistic because our fans love our game. I have full faith and confidence in the fans of America. They really dig our game and I know they want our game to be played. I've got full confidence in the people who play this game, so I'm absolutely confident that we'll get a deal done…I'm confident that we're going to keep these game going. I am 100 percent confident that the men of the National Football League want to play football, and for a guy that gets about 200 fan e-mails a day, I can tell you that the fans want to see our games."

On how long negotiations might last:

"I was a sprinter in college, so you never really think about how the race is going to end, you worry about how the race begins and you try to get going as fast as you can. You try to sustain a pace and speed to get it done quickly. That's where I am. I don't have any artificial timelines. I don't have any artificial dates, but I do feel that getting a deal done quickly – I saw Mr. Kraft's statements this morning – look, our fans don't want to fight. They love football. I can tell that some of the people that work in the stadiums don't want to fight. They want to work. For our guys who are playing, they don't want the distraction. They want to work, but they are engaged and they know this is a process. I look forward to working through that process, and the one thing the fans can rest assured, players in the National Football League are going to fight through everything they can to get a deal."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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