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Bounty case further strains relations between NFLCA, NFLPA


Friday’s 10,000-plus-word manifesto from filmmaker Sean Pamphilon contained several important allegations, including a contention that the NFLPA wanted the Gregg Williams audio to be released in order to support the notion that the players were dealing with a wild man in the locker room, which presumably would reduce the players’ culpability for the bounty program (if there was one).

On Monday morning, the NFL Coaches Association has responded to that notion with a strongly-worded statement that accuses NFLPA leadership of “throw[ing] coaches under the bus to save the players involved.” NFLCA executive director David Cornwell, who publicly criticized NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith’s job performance before taking over the NFLCA, writes that Smith was “scheming” for the audio to be published “because he thought players would look better if he made Williams look worse.”

“The NFLPA’s ‘my coach made me do it’ defense is petty and irresponsible and is further evidence that union leadership is not up to the task of leadership,” Cornwell says.

Cornwell, whose organization has been sued by the NFLPA for both the return of alleged loans and a declaration that Cornwell is not the legitimate executive director of the NFLCA, claims that the NFLPA’s insistence that there is “no evidence” of a bounty system represents “nothing more than a directive from Smith that players not meet with the Commissioner and not look at records uncovered in the NFL’s investigation so that Smith’s strategy of blaming coaches would have the illusion of merit.”

On that final point, however, we’re currently unaware of any refusal by the NFLPA or the individual players to refuse to look at “records uncovered” by the league. Instead, multiple sources have consistently informed PFT that the NFL has declined to share “records uncovered” and other raw evidence with the players.

Perhaps more importantly, Cornwell’s effort to accuse the players of blaming Williams for the bounty system (or whatever it was) overlooks the fact that, while representing Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt, Cornwell argued that Williams was a “rogue coach,” a defense that seemed more than a bit hollow given Vitt’s role as assistant head coach, which at a minimum gave him a pipeline to head coach Sean Payton for expressing concern about any misconduct by Williams.

Though the apparent inconsistency between Cornwell’s approach when representing Vitt and his current contentions on behalf of all coaches aren’t completely irreconcilable, especially since the “rogue coach” argument apparently related more to Williams’ decision to keep going even after the Saints were told the league had reopened the investigation in early 2012, Cornwell invites obvious criticism by criticizing the players for doing what Cornwell did on behalf of Vitt.

The broader question becomes whether and to what extent the players’ tactics truly risk “destroying the bond” (as Cornwell claims) between players and coaches. For now, these skirmishes appear to be the latest manifestation of a broader Cornwell vs. Smith showdown. To date, no individual coaches have expressed concern that anything the players are doing to reduce or avoid their suspensions threaten in any way the relationship between the men who play the game and the men who show them how.