CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson played a major role in brokering the last labor deal with the NFL players.
This time, he's taking a much harder stance and sounded a pessimistic tone on the negotiations on Tuesday.
In a rambling and rare news conference, the 74-year-old co-chairman of the owners' negotiating committee painted a dark picture as the league moves closer to a possible lockout that could threaten next season.
"It's said to me when I meet with the union lawyers, they say, 'Mr. Richardson we want more money, more benefits and we want to work less,'" Richardson said. "Then they say, 'Let's begin the negotiations.'
"I'm not optimistic we're making a lot of progress."
The remarks brought a strong rebuke from NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae, highlighting the gap between the two sides since the last agreement was reached in 2006. The owners opted out of the deal two years later.
"The players haven't asked for anything more. The owners want more money and more games," Mawae said, referring to owners' plans to go to an 18-game season. "The players want to play. The NFL is at its peak. This should not be that complicated."
Richardson, though, claimed concessions are needed from the players. He drew a circle on a blank piece of paper and claimed too much of that pie is going to the players, leaving the league with a negative cash flow of $200 million.
"I don't think many business schools would say that's a model that's going to sustain itself," Richardson said. "We have tried to explain that as best we could to the representatives of the players association. I personally am not as optimistic as some are, that we're making much progress."
Richardson's comments came a day after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter saying if both sides give in a little, a new deal can be reached.
"We understand and share Mr. Richardson's disappointment in the lack of engagement by the union and the slow pace of the negotiations," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Richardson said the two sides are spending too much time on things that are "counterproductive" and wasting valuable time.
"As I mentioned earlier, nobody has fought for labor peace more than I have," Richardson said. "I think that would be documented if you took a survey."
Richardson was credited with helping end the stalemate five years ago when he helped reach an agreement with Gene Upshaw, the late union chief. But Richardson soon soured on the deal and has helped lead the charge for a much different deal this time.
"I would say we're the most united we have been," Richardson said of the owners.
Richardson has presided over cost-cutting in the past year with the Panthers. He oversaw the purge of numerous veterans with few experienced players brought in to replace them. He acknowledged Tuesday he didn't let coach John Fox go after last season in part because he and his staff made a combined $11.4 million this season.
Richardson also said he wouldn't sign any player to a new contract until a new CBA is reached.
"The reason is we're going to follow the CBA," Richardson said. "The CBA is something we're going to negotiate very hard for."