The labor dispute between the National Football League and its players could deprive drafted and undrafted players of a fair chance to earn roster spots, New York Jets player representative Tony Richardson said.
Richardson, 39, spoke yesterday at a discussion hosted by the Manhattan-based New York Law School. He said the draft could coincide with the official start of the offseason, with roughly 500 players set to become free agents, creating a hectic atmosphere at Radio City Music Hall.
The 16-year NFL fullback’s comments came one day after U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled the league must end its month-old lockout of players. The NFL is seeking a stay to put Nelson’s ruling on hold and delay the start of the offseason while it contests the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“If the lockout is lifted and the stay isn’t granted, it could be utter chaos,” said Richardson, a member of the National Football League Players Association's Board of Directors. “If I am a general manager or a head coach and I have to deal with trying to draft players at the same time as a lot of movement in free agency and trades, it could get pretty ugly.”
Richardson went undrafted out of college and broke into the league following a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys. If the league is granted a stay, the lockout will make it harder for this year’s undrafted players to follow his path by working their way onto a team, he said.
‘Restrict Their Ability’
“The longer this thing goes on, those guys won’t have that opportunity to actually be at the facility, learn the language of the playbook and train with the strength coaches,” Richardson said during the discussion. “It’s going to restrict their ability to make the team.”
Nelson’s ruling in St. Paul, Minnesota, came in an antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 players, including Super Bowl winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, and Texas A&M University linebacker Von Miller, who has entered the draft.
“It’s a step in the right direction -- it’s not a touchdown, I would consider it a first down,” Richardson said in an interview following the discussion. “You can’t put your hands in the air and say, ‘We won.’”
The NFL on March 12 declared a labor lockout after talks to create a new collective bargaining agreement failed and the NFL Players Association said it no longer would act as a union.
Division of Revenue
The sides can’t agree on how to split $9 billion in revenue, the most of any U.S. sports league. The league and its players are also at odds over health-care provisions, a rookie pay scale, financial transparency and the extension of the regular season to 18 games from 16.
If the league’s request for a stay is denied and the lockout remains lifted, the NFL’s offseason could officially begin. Players would resume getting paid, teams would be allowed to hold practices and about 500 players would become free agents. During a lockout, players aren’t paid and teams can’t practice, sign new players or make trades.
Teams denied players use of weight rooms and training centers yesterday. Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who has a $750,000 bonus in his contract tied to offseason workouts, showed up at the team’s facilities in Florham Park, New Jersey, the Star-Ledger reported. Ferguson, linebacker Bart Scott, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and a number of teammates were not allowed to use the weight room, the paper said.
Not ‘Appropriate’ Now
“We do not believe it is appropriate for football activities to take place until there are further rulings from the court,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “Under the last set of proposals made to the NFLPA, teams wouldn’t even be into offseason programs yet.”
Nelson ordered the players’ attorneys to submit written arguments opposing a stay of her order by this morning.
“It was the owners’ intention to lock out the players as early as 2008,” players’ association spokesman George Atallah said during the New York Law School discussion. “The injunction that was granted yesterday proves without a shadow of a doubt that a lockout based on the players’ decertification is illegal.”
Under an order by Nelson, lawyers for owners and players engaged in four days of talks mediated by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in Minneapolis. The negotiations are scheduled to resume on May 16. A decision on the league’s appeal of Nelson’s decision isn’t expected until June, according to Atallah.
Richardson, who has served as a player representative for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Jets, said players are anxious to return to the field.
“We’ve been stressing for a while that we don’t actually start playing games until September, so we have time, but there is a sense of urgency to get back to some normalcy and get back to some training,” he said.