The NFL's locked-out players wrote back to commissioner Roger Goodell on Saturday, responding to his letter to them by saying: "Your statements are false."
In a four-page letter, the 11 members of the NFL Players Association's executive committee told Goodell that, during labour negotiations, the league's owners did not justify "their demands for a massive giveback which would have resulted in the worst economic deal for players in major pro sports."
Goodell wrote all active NFL players Thursday, outlining the league's description of its last proposal and cautioning that each day "puts our game and our shared economics further at risk."
In a statement emailed by the league Saturday, hours after the NFLPA released its letter to Goodell, NFL executive vice-president Jeff Pash began: "We are pleased now to have received a reply to the comprehensive proposal that we made eight days ago."
Pash, the league's lead labour negotiator, also said: "Debating the merits of the offer in this fashion is what collective bargaining is all about. ... This letter again proves that the most sensible step for everyone is to get back to bargaining."
As if anticipating the league would seek to portray the players' letter as a formal reply to the owners' proposal, the NFLPA executive committee noted in its final paragraph: "We no longer have the authority to collectively bargain on behalf of the NFL players. ..."
Their letter began, "Dear Roger," and closed with "Sincerely," followed by the names of Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Colts centre Jeff Saturday, Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, Chiefs guard Brian Waters and former players Sean Morey and Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president.
"We were due to respond," Fujita said Saturday at Marco Island, where the NFLPA is holding its annual convention for players. "The letter gives a true testament to what went on, what the offer was and what it meant to the players."
He and the letters' other writers each attended at least some of the 16 days of federal mediation in Washington that broke off March 11 without a new deal, so the collective bargaining agreement expired.
The union dissolved that day, renouncing its right to bargain on behalf of players, and allowing players to file a class-action antitrust suit in federal court. Hours later, owners locked out the players.
That created the sport's first work stoppage since 1987, and players can't sign new contracts or get paid under existing ones. Their health insurance premiums are not being paid by teams.
A hearing on the players' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the lockout is scheduled for April 6 in Minneapolis, and there appears to be little chance of a return to bargaining before then.
In Saturday's letter, the players went through various parts of the offer the NFL made on the last day of negotiations.
"You had ample time over the last two years to make a proposal that would be fair to both sides, but you failed to do so. During the last week of the mediation, we waited the entire week for the NFL to make a new economic proposal," the players wrote to Goodell.
"That proposal did not come until 12:30 [p.m.] on Friday, and, when we examined it, we found it was worse than the proposal the NFL had made the prior week when we agreed to extend the mediation."
They concluded their letter by telling Goodell if he has "any desire to discuss a settlement of the issues" in the antitrust suit filed March 11 by 10 players — including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brees — he should contact the lawyers representing the former union.
Goodell ended his letter by saying: "I hope you will encourage your union to return to the bargaining table and conclude a new collective bargaining agreement."
Players were upset by that line, particularly the reference to "your union" — the NFLPA renounced its status as a union and says it is now a trade association, which permits the court actions under antitrust laws; the league calls that move a "sham."
Steelers safety Ryan Clark said Goodell's letter was written "to create confusion, to create dissension among the players." Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bradie James thought Goodell's words were meant "to divide us; it's that simple."