MMQB Mailbag: What to expect as NFL's labor negotiations begin
DeMaurice Smith's NFLPA office caught fire early Tuesday
Vince Young's offseason of solitude didn't last very long
Questions about Tom Brady, Byron Leftwich and much more
As you read this, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith might still be assessing the damage in his Washington office after what can best be described as a bizarre fire in the bathroom adjacent to his office around 5 a.m.
I'm told Smith was approaching Washington at that time, on a red-eye flight back to D.C. after spending Monday with the San Francisco 49ers, filling in the players on the upcoming negotiations with owners. A union spokesman told me the fire was started from a candle in the bathroom, and that far more damage was done by water from the sprinkler system in the office than by the actual fire. The office and bathroom were drenched by the sprinklers, and apparently the computer system and files in the office are safe, but some of the memorabilia from Gene Upshaw's era -- which Smith kept intact in the office -- might be damaged.
But after the weirdness of that wears off, Smith has a more important matter on his plate: the opening of negotiations with the NFL for a new labor agreement Wednesday in New York. The point man for the NFL will be low-key but uber-smart league attorney Jeff Pash. Don't expect to hear daily updates. News will come out in dribs and drabs, but probably not for a while.
I believe the early stages of the negotiations will be civil but firm on both sides. The union is going to push to see every team's complete financial ledger. The NFL will balk, claiming the NFLPA already knows enough about the audited financial information of the 32 teams to negotiate a fair contract. And that will be the first chasm.
Regardless, there will be football in 2010, likely without a salary cap. So the next two years will go on, with shots being fired across bows, but with football. The way I see it, Smith's intention to take better care of retired players, and his insistence on more transparency from the league will be major problems from the players' side. And the owners, wanting to turn the clock back on some of the concessions given in the 2006 negotiations, will be intolerable from the players' side.
It's going to get ugly. There's better than a 50-percent chance, I believe, of some work stoppage in 2011, as incredibly golden-goose-killing as that sounds.
A couple of points from yesterday's column that I screwed up.
One: Jack Donlan is not dead. That's a pretty big mistake, and I've apologized to Donlan, the longtime management council czar with the league, for killing him in the column.
"That's OK,'' said Donlan, semi-retired and living in Florida, with a chuckle. "I got about 10 calls yesterday about it. A couple of friends said, 'When's the wake?' My kids thought they could do 'Waking Ned Devine' in reverse. It's OK, really. The funny thing is, today's my 74th birthday.''
I have no excuses for the screwup; it's just one of those things that happens when you don't check all your facts, and it's a good warning to me.
"Not long ago,'' Donlan said, "Sam Kaegel, a well-known arbitrator who worked on some of our cases with the league, died. And the New York Times ran an obituary, and for some reason, they used a picture of me. Now this. It's my second time dying in a short period. Other than a summer cold, I'm in pretty good health. I hope there's no message there.''
Two: Dave Goldberg of the Associated Press, along with Will McDonough, had Paul Tagliabue being a candidate to replace Pete Rozelle at the March 1989 NFL meetings. I reported yesterday that it was McDonough's scoop, but Goldberg, who was on top of all things NFL then and now, had the same thing.
AGENTS MATTER. From Jac, of Islamorada, Fla.: "I have to completely disagree with you on Ten Things I Think I Think 1b: I believe an agent makes a huge difference in a player's financial situation. For example, check out Sean Jones' pay compared to Gibril Wilson's. Wilson signs two big contracts while Jones has better numbers and can't get more than a one-year deal. What's up with that?''
Gibril Wilson hit the ultimate player's jackpot. He got Al Davis interested in him after the Giants won the Super Bowl, and Davis gave him $16 million guaranteed, and then Al fell out of love with Wilson last season, and then he got the kind of contract that probably is more in line with his skills: five years, $8-million guaranteed in Miami. You ask about Jones in Philly, earning a one-year, $3-million deal. I agree with you -- Jones is better than that. But he got buried in the Cleveland morass. It's not the agent's fault; it's the situation.
HE WILL NOT WATCH MATT MILLEN, AND HE DOESN'T LIKE MATT MILLEN. From Steve Jebson, of Northville, Mich.: "Is it possible for a game to earn a negative Nielsen rating? Because that's what the NFL Network will get out of the Detroit market if Matt Millen is the color analyst for any of its games. I'm not one of those who blames Millen for taking the NBC gig last year [or any future gig.] It's hard to blame someone for accepting a job offer. I blame the company that offers it to him in the first place. I know we are a little biased here in Detroit, but does this man have any credibility left in the eyes of fans and/or colleagues?''
My feeling about Millen is simple: He was one of the top three analysts on TV when he left Fox to run the Lions. He was a tireless tape-watcher, and very good at putting complicated information in layman's terms over the air. Yes, he presided over the worst era of football in Lions' history. His reign was an embarrassment. But does that mean he won't be as good on TV now as he was 10 years ago? I don't think so. If Phil Simms took a GM job with the Texans tomorrow and they went 14-50 in the next four years and he resigned in disgrace, do you think he wouldn't be good on TV in 2013, when he went looking for a network job? I'm not saying you should watch and respect Millen; I'm just saying I think he'll be a good color man on TV.
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