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League denies report of refusal to negotiate last week

Clay Redden

The gavel stands ready as Alabama House Public Information Officer Clay Redden, rear, makes preparations House chamber in Montgomery, Ala., on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010 a for the special session on ethics legislation called by Gov. Bob Riley. The lawmakers come into session next Wednesday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Dave Martin

Earlier today, we pointed out an eyebrow-raising report from ESPN’s John Clayton that the players “planned to meet with the owners March 28 and spend the week settling this mess,” but that the league refused. Making the report even more curious was that, even though Clayton cited “multiple sources” (all unnamed) in support of the contention, it appeared not on the bottom of the screen or at the top of the SportsCenter loop or on the front page of the website but at the very bottom of a mailbag column.

The league denies the report.

“No such proposal was made by players or a player representative,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via e-mail. “We are interested in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. We wanted to continue negotiations at the federal mediation office based on our March 11 proposal, but the union walked away from negotiations and filed a lawsuit. We are not interested in discussing a litigation settlement. We are prepared to continue negotiations immediately over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement and communicated that to the NFLPA two weeks ago.”

In other words, if the proposal had been made, it would have been refused.

That said, the parties are free to negotiate a “litigation settlement” that results in a new collective bargaining agreement. Though the league isn’t interested in having a federal judge supervise the next labor deal -- and thus doesn’t want a court-approved settlement to become the labor deal in the same way the settlement of the Reggie White antitrust case became the Judge Doty-governed CBA -- the parties can negotiate whatever they choose to negotiate. Though the settlement of any class action must be approved by the court, the parties can agree to a dispute resolution procedure that doesn’t entail anything other than a third-party arbitrator to determine the outcome, which is the normal procedure for labor-management contracts.

The fact that the league refuses to negotiate within the confines of the litigation creates yet another significant hurdle for the process. Unless one side or the other blinks, there will be no negotiations until the Brady case is resolved.

But there’s some hope. Judge Susan Nelson has the authority to order the parties to mediate. The NFL then will have no choice but to attempt negotiate a potential litigation settlement.