BEREA — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell heard cheers and signed autographs when he talked to a group of fans Thursday afternoon at Browns training camp.
He was scheduled to meet with the players in the evening, and it’s safe to assume the reception wasn’t as warm.
A lockout looms in 2011 as the owners and players are in the last year of the collective bargaining agreement. Little progress has been made in negotiations, and the players resent the NFL’s desire to lower the percentage of revenue given to the players.
Linebacker Scott Fujita, who’s heavily involved in the union, said he had some pointed questions to ask Goodell.
“They keep talking about they want 18 (regular-season) games and an 18 percent cutback in player pay,” Fujita said. “But what about the compensation for us? It’s a give and take in these negotiations and we haven’t heard anything that’s going to come back to us.
“Unfortunately right now there’s not a whole lot of good news to report. There have been 15 negotiating sessions and nothing good coming out of it.”
Goodell arrived in a giant bus he’s sharing with Hall of Famer John Madden as they visit a series of camps. Goodell stopped in Pittsburgh on Thursday morning, before meeting with Cleveland’s front office, watching practice with president Mike Holmgren and talking to a group of fans for a half-hour. Goodell had nothing to report regarding possible discipline from his office for Browns defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Robaire Smith, who were arrested for carrying guns at airports in separate incidents. Goodell didn’t plan to meet with either Thursday, but short suspensions are expected.
“Both cases are still under review by our staff. I haven’t gotten any recommendations from them,” he said. “I’m not going to make any judgments about it other than it’s a clear mistake. It is a violation of law and it’s the kind of judgments that we have to make sure we do a better job of avoiding.”
Goodell said Rogers could get “time off” for helping police apprehend an erratic driver last month in Middleburg Heights on the same day he reached a plea agreement on the gun charge. He called police and followed the car.
“Yes, I heard about that,” Goodell said. “I think that’s a great example of a young man making a mistake on one hand and doing something very positive on the other.”
Goodell faces the possibility of being in command for the first work stoppage in the NFL since a player strike in 1987.
“We are going to work day and night to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. “I think there’s plenty of time still to get something done and that’s our goal and that’s certainly our job.
“I hope they’re going to be coming to the table with the same intent to try to get something done.”
The league forced the labor uncertainty by exercising its option to back out of the CBA. It believes the players’ chunk of the pie is too big.
“I’m willing as a player and as part of the workforce to negotiate,” offensive lineman Tony Pashos said. “I really don’t like take-it-orleave- it type of stuff. Let’s talk.”
Fujita, who’s never afraid to speak his mind, said a major stumbling block is the owners’ refusal to show the union their complete finances.
“You can’t have any goodfaith negotiations unless we can see what the owners are talking about and they open up their books,” he said. “We’re going to keep talking about that issue, because it’s the most important thing. They’re talking to us about what the costs are, but what’s that do for us? Nothing.
“We want to get a deal done. If they want to get a deal done, they’re going to open up the books and then we can talk and have a serious discussion.”
Goodell agreed in principle, but wouldn’t go as far as Fujita would like.
“They need to see why the system isn’t working and we need to make sure that they understand that,” Goodell said. “(We) are sharing a tremendous amount of information. I think we’ve been very clear about why the system doesn’t work.
“There are a lot of other leagues that have looked at books that have led to lockouts. The important thing is creating an environment where the right information is being exchanged so that you can make good decisions, and I think we’ve done it.”
A rookie wage scale proposed by Goodell is also a bone of contention. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in April, signed a deal with $50 million guaranteed before taking a snap in the NFL.
“Our rookie-compensation system is broken,” Goodell said. “I think our compensation system should reward the players for their performance on an NFL field and this is something I’ve heard from veteran players about and I think it’s something that we have to address in the collective bargaining agreement.”
Fujita, Pashos and tight end Robert Royal, the team’s player rep, think the system is fine the way it is.
“Teams can pay players whatever they want,” Fujita said. “Is it our issue to clean up? If you don’t want to pay a rookie that much money, don’t pay him that much money. So quit coming to us with the problem.”
The NFL’s enormous fan base doesn’t stand to lose the billions and millions of the owners and players, but it doesn’t want football to disappear for a minute. At least, Goodell and the players agree on that.
“It’d be a shame,” Pashos said. “Here taxpayers are building these stadiums that are like Taj Mahals, they’re gorgeous and they (could be) empty.”
“We need to find solutions to our issues. That’s what people want,” Goodell said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com.
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