MIAMI (AP) - While union leaders acknowledged they are in talks with the league about a new labor agreement, they weren’t interested in providing much more information about those negotiations.
Instead, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and his executive committee members were forthcoming on several other topics such as changes in the league’s drug policy regarding marijuana use for medical purposes. And about the Rooney Rule not achieving its goals in minority coaching hires.
But there was a modicum of information on the collective bargaining agreement talk, mostly in relation to a 17-game regular season.
“There are 2,000 players with 2,000 opinions on that,” outgoing union president Eric Winston said. “We have 10 men on our executive committee who have 10 opinions.”
Winston, who has retired after 12 seasons, admitted the 17 games is one of many negotiating points as the league and union seek a new deal more than a year before the 10-year current CBA expires. Another could be additional roster spots per team in exchange for a longer season.
But the prospect of 17 regular-season games, even if that means chopping the preseason schedule in half, didn’t sit well with two current players.
“Health and safety will always be paramount,” Patriots tight end Ben Watson noted. “That’s why we got different changes in the work rules (in 2011) on how much hitting, offseason workouts. For every player, health and safety has to be at the forefront. We all know football is a violent game, beautifully violent. We love to compete, but in that we want to be safe.”
Smith was far less forthcoming Thursday than was Commissioner Roger Goodell the previous day. Goodell said the two parties “have been having incredibly productive dialogue” over the past seven to eight months.
“I think we have addressed difficult issues that face our league going forward and looking forward. The process will close when the process closes, when all of us feel comfortable that we can reach an agreement … I do not know when that will be, but I think it is more important to get it right.”
Added Chiefs owner Clark Hunt:
“I had the pleasure - jokingly - of being part of that process back in 2011 as well as this past offseason, and the dialogue has been much different this time than it was nine or 10 years ago. Very much a desire on both parties to try to get a deal done even though we have a year for the labor deal before it expires.
“I have some optimism but I also know that things like CBAs typically don’t get done without a deadline, so it may not get done right now.”
Whenever it does get done, the players are hopeful for modernizing the drug policy regarding marijuana. They seek an updated policy that reflects how marijuana is used in society in general.
“How do we get (players) help and get (the policy) away from the idea that discipline must be part of everything,” Winston said. “We need to think about making sure it’s much more contemporary than it has been in the past.”
Some of that has been happening, added former New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, an executive committee member. There was a reduction of the restrictions on how much marijuana is allowed in a player’s system. But is it enough?
“We want to help our players deal with pain,” Herzlich said. “Every time you put on a helmet and shoulder pads, there’ll be some damage to your body. We’re definitely fighting for the best option for our players to deal with pain.”
Regarding no African-Americans being hired as head coaches this offseason despite five openings, Giants safety Mike Thomas suggested owners and general managers need to be confronted more loudly on their hiring procedures.
Smith called it “an issue for us to look at as stewards of the game,” noting that many former players who are minorities eventually go into coaching. Few, it seems, are getting fair opportunities to become head coaches.
Watson pointed out that there is mostly white ownership in the league.
“There’s a complete lack of transparency and a significant discrepancy when it comes to minority hires,” said Smith, himself an African-American.
NOTES: New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland received the Alan Page Community Award for his off-field work with his Beyond The Basics Inc., which helps children reach their potential.
One of Copeland’s initiatives was to hand out a total of 300 gift certificates worth $200 apiece to people in need for holiday shopping.
“What you have done is created hope,” said Page, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member and a retired Minnesota Supreme Court judge.
“I want to make sure you are taking what impact you had on them for a lifetime,” he said, “because the power we have to do that is something very special. I applaud us all for using it.”
AP National Writer Eddie Pells and Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed.
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