MARCO ISLAND, Fla. – So this is what the NFL and players are reduced to: Both sides are writing letters and issuing statements to and about each other, disputing "facts" and seeking to frame the back-and-forth about the sport's first work stoppage since 1987.
The locked-out players wrote a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday, responding to an email he sent them Thursday and telling him: "Your statements are false."
In a four-page letter, the 11 members of the NFL Players Association executive committee told Goodell that, during labor negotiations, the league's owners did not justify "their demands for a massive giveback which would have resulted in the worst economic deal for players in major pro sports."
When Goodell wrote all active NFL players on Thursday, he outlined the league's description of its last proposal, which was made March 11. That turned out to be the 16th and final day of mediated talks, and the old labor deal expired. Goodell ended his letter by saying: "I hope you will encourage your union to return to the bargaining table and conclude a new collective bargaining agreement."
Players were upset by that line, particularly the reference to "your union." When the NFLPA dissolved March 11, it renounced its status as a union that can bargain on behalf of its members and said it is now a trade association, which allowed players to sue the league under antitrust laws. The league calls that move a "sham."
A hearing on the players' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the lockout is scheduled for April 6 in Minnesota, and there appears little chance of a return to bargaining before then.
In a statement emailed to reporters by the league Saturday, hours after the NFLPA released its letter to Goodell, NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash began: "We are pleased now to have received a reply to the comprehensive proposal that we made eight days ago."
Pash, the league's lead labor negotiator, also said: "Debating the merits of the offer in this fashion is what collective bargaining is all about. ... This letter again proves that the most sensible step for everyone is to get back to bargaining."
As if anticipating that the league would seek to portray the players' letter as a formal reply to the owners' proposal, the NFLPA executive committee noted in its final paragraph: "We no longer have the authority to collectively bargain on behalf of the NFL players. ..."
Their letter began, "Dear Roger," and closed with "Sincerely," followed by the names of Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, Chiefs guard Brian Waters and former players Sean Morey and Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president.
"We were due to respond," Fujita said Saturday at Marco Island, where the NFLPA is holding its annual convention for players. "The letter gives a true testament to what went on, what the offer was, and what it meant to the players."
The owners begin two days of meetings Monday in New Orleans.
In Saturday's letter, the players went through various parts of the last NFL offer, including saying that the league's salary-cap proposals "were based on unrealistically low revenue projections."
"You had ample time over the last two years to make a proposal that would be fair to both sides, but you failed to do so. During the last week of the mediation, we waited the entire week for the NFL to make a new economic proposal," the players wrote to Goodell. "That proposal did not come until 12:30 (p.m.) on Friday, and, when we examined it, we found it was worse than the proposal the NFL had made the prior week when we agreed to extend the mediation."
They concluded their letter by telling Goodell that if he has "any desire to discuss a settlement of the issues" in the antitrust suit filed by 10 players — including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brees — he should contact their lawyers.