The NFL owners say the current collective-bargaining agreement, which gives 60 percent of the league's total football revenue to the players, doesn't work for them.
DeMaurice Smith has a short, sweet, two-word response to that: Prove it.
Smith, the new executive director of the NFL Players Association, has urged the owners to open their books and show the union why the deal they approved by a 30-2 vote just 3 years ago no longer is economically viable.
"That just makes sense to me," said Smith, after an early-afternoon meeting at the NovaCare Complex with about 25 Eagles players. "The basic function of a financial statement is to give you an accurate snapshot of what the profit-loss and revenue of a team is. That's what we don't have."
The union knows, to the penny, what the league produces in revenue - just under $8 billion last year - because it is used to calculate the salary cap. But the owners claim too much of their share of that $8 billion is being eaten away by costs, including stadium debt. Again, Smith says prove it. Show us your bottom line.
"Look, I can't crawl into their heads," he said. "I don't have a crystal ball about what they want to do. What the players know is, they know that even in the worst economic downturn in our lifetime, the NFL has secured television deals that go until 2014. We know that all of those deals are increases over the past deals. We know that attendance continues to climb. We know that 40 million people watched the draft. And we know that the league generated almost $8 billion in revenue last year.
"I think from anyone's standard, the strength of the NFL - its economic viability, its growth among fans and its growth with all of their [television] partners, has not only been sustained, it's been almost exponential growth over the last 40 years. And it looks like that trend continues."
The current CBA is scheduled to expire after the 2010 season. But if there isn't a new deal by next March, the final year of the agreement will be uncapped. The league and the union held their first negotiating session 3 weeks ago.
"We had a good meeting," Smith said. "It was good. It was productive. I look forward to our next one."
Since being elected in mid-March, Smith has spent a lot of time on the road, introducing himself to the rank-and-file and briefing them on the labor situation. The Eagles were the 18th team he has visited.
"It was important for me to get to the teams as quickly as possible," said Smith, 46, who replaced Gene Upshaw, who died last August of pancreatic cancer. "It's kept me out of the office most of the days since I was elected. But given the choice of spending time in the office or spending time with our men, that's not a close call."
Smith, an attorney who had no previous NFL connection, beat out former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong and agent David Cornwell in the union's March election. Both Vincent and Armstrong were former NFLPA presidents.
"He's got a good plan," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said. "I'm excited about where we're headed. Sometimes you have to think about it more like a business. I think that's where we're headed right now. I don't want it to get to a lockout. I don't want it to get to that point. But we can't control that. The owners control that."
Mikell, who filled in for the team's absent player rep, Sheldon Brown, at yesterday's meeting, is hopeful the two sides reach an agreement before the salary cap goes away next March. Mikell realizes that an uncapped NFL wouldn't necessarily be the financial bonanza that many players seem to think.
"A lot of times people get caught up . . . when you look at uncapped, you think people are going to go out and spend an unlimited amount of dollars," he said. "But that's not the case. An uncapped year, it can be great for some, it can be bad for some. At the end of the day, we don't want it to get to that point. But again, we're not in control of that right now."