(AP) – A day after the NFL regular season ended, Commissioner Roger Goodell sent an e-mail to about 5 million fans, telling them that “if both sides give a little,” the league and its players’ union “can and will reach an agreement” on a new labor deal.
Citing the U.S. economy, and saying, “a 10 percent unemployment rate hurts us all,” Goodell wrote Monday: “Yes, NFL players deserve to be paid well. Unfortunately, economic realities are forcing everyone to make tough choices and the NFL is no different.”
He outlined two key elements in negotiations among owners and players to replace the collective bargaining agreement, which expires March 4:
— Expanding from a 16- to 18-game regular season, which Goodell called “a significant change” that would “resolve fan complaints about preseason” by dropping two exhibition games;
— Instituting “a new system that properly compensates proven veterans and retired players by shifting some of the outrageous sums paid to many unproven rookies.”
In 2009, according to the e-mail, NFL teams agreed to contracts worth $1.2 billion — including $585 million in guaranteed pay — for 256 drafted rookies.
“Don’t get me wrong: top draft choices will continue to be highly paid,” Goodell wrote. “All we’re asking for is a return to common sense in paying our rookies. Other leagues have done this and we can too.”
Goodell also referred to the league’s efforts to improve player safety by enforcing rules on dangerous hits, especially to the head, and “addressing the potential wear-and-tear on players in the way they train in-season and off-season.”
The letter was sent to a database of fan e-mail addresses the league has collected from various sources, including NFL.com.
“Many fans have been asking me where we stand on signing a new collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union. Let me update you and be clear at the outset: I know we can and will reach an agreement,” Goodell wrote.
He continued: “Economic conditions … have changed dramatically inside and outside the NFL since 2006 when we negotiated the last CBA. … These are not easy negotiations, but the outcome can be positive. If both sides give a little, everyone, including fans, will get a lot and the game will improve through innovation.”
The current CBA went into effect for the 2006 season, but the owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008 that ends the deal after this season, saying they can’t afford the current system. The players say the league is healthy, thanks to billions of dollars in TV deals, solid attendance, profitable marketing partnerships and overseas interest.
The NFL has not missed games because of labor problems since 1987, when the players went on strike. But the union’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has said he believes owners are preparing for a lockout this time.
“This is about more than a labor agreement,” Goodell wrote in Monday’s e-mail. “It’s about the future of the NFL.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.