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Vrabel wants to negotiate directly with owners, only

Mike Vrabel, Jeff Saturday

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, left, followed by Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, center, and others, arrives with other players, for football labor negotiations with the NFL involving a federal mediator, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


ESPN conducted a group interview of five members of the NFLPA* Executive Committee, and several of them dropped some fairly interesting nuggets of information.

Our eyebrows raised the highest when Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel said that the players are willing to negotiate, but that they don’t want to negotiate with outside counsel Bob Batterman, in-house counsel Jeff Pash, or Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our Executive Commitee needs to negotiate with Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft, Jerry Richardson, their Executive Committee,” Vrabel said. “People that are willing and can agree to a deal. Jeff Pash can’t agree to a deal.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees commented on the possibility that incoming rookies may not attend the draft. Though Brees said nothing about a boycott, his feelings became clear.

“Each rookie has, if they’ve been invited to New York, they absolutely have the option of going to New York. I think to our point it was, ‘How do you feel about walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the Commissioner who just locked you out?’” Brees said. “And as great an experience as it is to get drafted, which it absolutely is, I think the even greater experience is to play your first game and to have the opportunity to win a championship, and right now that’s being threatened with this lockout.”

Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Vrabel seemed to indicate -- strongly -- that the players will not agree to 18 games, a topic that the league is willing to place on the back burner.

And Foxworth’s comments on the upcoming hearing in the antitrust lawsuit filed by Brees and nine other players hints at the hubris that some may have regarding the chances of winning an order lifting the lockout while the litigation proceeds.

“We’re confident that this injunction is going to be granted,” Foxworth said, “and I think the message to the fans is all the fans should unite and root for this at this point. You don’t have a team to root for at this point. You want to root for your team when the season comes? You need to be outside the courthouse with your face painted, cheering for the judge to grant this injunction. Because I think, simply put, if we are granted this injunction, there will be football.”

But it’s not that simple. If Judge Susan Nelson grants the injunction, the NFL will appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and the outcome of the appeal will be a crapshoot since the parties won’t know who the judges will be until they show up for the oral arguments.

Also, while the principle of antitrust law relevant to 32 separate businesses locking out a non-union workforce seems clear, the league aggressively will argue that the players can’t show a likelihood of winning the case due to the significant uncertainty as to whether the players will beat back the “sham” defense to the decision to shut down the union and sue. For now, the league doesn’t have to show that the “sham” defense is available and that they will prevail; the players must show that, on all issues, that they are likely to win an injunction later in order to get an injunction while the case is pending. With David Boies, one of the best lawyers in the country, making the argument against the union’s position, the only thing anyone should be confident about is that there’s no way of knowing how it will all turn out.

So get back to the table. And if the union wants Goodell, Pash, and Batterman out of the room, leave them out of the room. We’re in favor of whatever it takes to get a deal done, and we’re hoping that this collection of players and owners who collectively seem to be intoxicated by money they’ve already earned and/or money they will earn in the future and/or testosterone coursing through their veins today come to their senses and behave like the stewards of the game that they are supposed to be.

“At the end of the day, we want to play football,” Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said. “We want to be on the football field. Guys want to be in minicamps, because we have a good time doing the things that we love to do for a living. This is not just jobs that we do. We love -- we’re fans of the game as well.”

If they’re truly fans of the game, they they should be pushing aggressively for negotiations to continue. Because that’s the only thing the fans care about right now.