Union: No reason for NFL lockout

Titans center Kevin Mawae addresses reporters Thursday in Tampa during  the NFL Players Association's first news conference since Gene Upshaw's death in August.
TAMPA, FL, Jan. 29, 2009 — The NFL players' union plans to pick a successor for the late Gene Upshaw early this year, and sees no reason to expect a lockout in two years.

Owners are opting out of the current labor deal after the 2010 season, however, the union said it didn't anticipate trouble.

"This is a good thing we have going on between the players and owners," president Kevin Mawae said Thursday in the NFL Players Association's first news conference since Upshaw died in August. "The players don't feel we have to get to that point."

The five finalists to replace Upshaw, as reported last week by The Associated Press, are former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong; former Bears tackle Jim Covert; Ben Utt, who played for Baltimore and Indianapolis; and Washington-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.

Mawae, the All-Pro center for the Tennessee Titans, said three candidates will be presented to the union's executive board at its annual meeting in Hawaii in March. An election is scheduled to follow, and serious negotiating with the league won't take place before then.

"What Gene would have wanted most was for us to carry on with the business of the union," said acting executive director Richard Berthelsen, the players' longtime counsel. "Our mission is to not only retain the partnership we have with NFL owners, but improve on it.

"We have seen unprecedented labor peace in our sport and unprecedented prosperity together with the owners. We think have a pretty good thing going," he said.

It will end, however, after an uncapped 2010 season if the two sides don't negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Berthelsen presented information that the union believes confirms just how prosperous the 32 teams are.

A union-commissioned study showed the average value of the teams has grown from $288 million to $1.04 billion over 10 years, an increase of about 14 percent a year. Berthelsen said the average gain in the last year alone was $82.6 million, and he challenged anyone to find an industry "with similar numbers in this economy."

Noting that 95 percent of the Miami Dolphins sold for $1.1 billion earlier this month -- "pretty amazing," he said -- Berthelsen added that the average profit was $24.7 million in the last year. That would make for $107 million in average annual return, "a very good return for anybody in any economy."

With those numbers, the union questions why the owners would be dissatisfied with the CBA -- let alone consider the elimination of a salary cap. Mawae said the cap has worked well for all concerned, but that the players won't accept one again if it disappears next year.

Many NFL owners, however, believe the current agreement is too favorable for the players, who get about 60 percent of applicable revenues. Some owners whose franchises can't compete with the Cowboys, Redskins and other rich teams for outside revenues (naming rights, sponsorship deals, ancillary income) are aggressively seeking relief. It took only nine negative votes last year to opt out of the CBA.

Berthelsen said the salary cap for 2009 will be $123 million, up from $116 million. The minimum salary for a 10-year veteran will be $845,000, while the rookie minimum will be $310,000.

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