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NFLPA Heavily Scrutinized

September 25, 2013

In the 2011 the NFL lockout caused the cancellation of the NFL Hall of Game and preseason Mini Camp. According the many players the negotiation of the new Collective bargaining agreement cost NFL players millions of dollars. The NFL had used replacement referees for the first 3 weeks of the 2012 regular season. Former player Sean Gilbert believes he is the solution for the NFLPA.

NFL and NFLPA Negotiations have not been without criticism.

NFL and NFLPA Negotiations have not been without criticism.

Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal analyzes a former NFL player’s attempt to take over the NFLPA.

Former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sean Gilbert is embarking on a campaign to take over the NFL Players Association.

Gilbert—who as a player was known for his hardball negotiating tactics and large salary—has penned a 23,000-word e-book outlining his plan and announcing his candidacy for executive director of the union. That position is held by DeMaurice Smith, a Washington-based attorney who took over in 2009 for the late Gene Upshaw.

In an interview, Gilbert said he feels players “are at a point where they want change.”

Gilbert’s announcement will represent the first challenge to Smith’s tenure. Smith’s three-year contract expires about a year and a half from now.

In the e-book, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Gilbert says the union has been losing in labor negotiations with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Reached by phone this week, Gilbert said the union “gave up $4.5 billion [of league revenue] with the stroke of a pen” in the last collective bargaining agreement, which was struck in 2011 and runs through 2020.

Smith declined to comment. An NFLPA official rebutted Gilbert’s claims. “The first two years of the deal show that players are getting a greater percentage of all league revenue in cash than they’ve ever gotten before,” the official said.

Smith led the union during a contentious 2011 labor battle that resulted in a lockout but ended with no missed regular-season games. Smith called the deal “fair and balanced” at the time.

Gilbert criticizes Smith for allowing Goodell too much power over player discipline and for agreeing to salary-cap penalties for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who spent freely when there was no salary cap the previous year. Gilbert said the penalties represent collusion to spend less on player salaries. The NFL declined to comment.

An NFLPA official said Tuesday that the union has made inroads on player discipline, including naming former player Matt Birk as one of the two appeals officers involved in the discipline process. As for the salary-cap penalties, the official said the NFL was “backed into a corner,” but that it had to make a choice between punishing two teams or lowering the new salary cap for all other teams.

Gilbert’s campaign to take over the union will begin with the e-book, which is titled “The $29 Million Tip”—a reference to Goodell’s salary in 2011. It will be distributed to each player with a personalized note from Gilbert. He says he will also speak with as many players as possible to gauge what they’d want in a new union chief.

Gilbert, 43, played 11 seasons for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders. He became famous in labor circles when, as one of the league’s top defensive linemen, he sat out the 1997 season during a contract dispute with the Redskins. The Panthers eventually gave up two first round picks to secure Gilbert’s rights and then signed him to a $46.5 million deal, the biggest for a defensive player at the time.

Gilbert finished playing in 2003 but has remained involved in football, working as an adviser to his nephew, superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis, who after contract holdouts with the New York Jets was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and negotiated a contract worth up to $96 million. Gilbert said he became intrigued with the idea of taking over the union while studying the CBA in order to seek a contract for Revis. That, he said, made him a student of the labor process.

One idea Gilbert floats is that the players could agree to an 18-game regular-season schedule if team owners agree to knock one year off the typical four-year wait for a player to get to free agency. Gilbert said this would boost revenue by $2 billion annually. The union says they are “squarely opposed” to playing 18 games.

Gilbert said he would have support, both from his current connection to Revis but also as a former player. He was a coaching intern with the New York Jets two years ago and now coaches high-school football on a volunteer basis at a local Charlotte high school. He dismissed the notion that Smith, with his background in law, has better credentials.

“I think at the end of the day knowledge is power,” Gilbert said. “No disrespect to De Smith and everything De [Smith] has accomplished, but he’s actually entered into my arena.”

For more information about an NFL agent, contact a Seattle NFL Agent.

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