Union: No reason for NFL lockout

TAMPA, Fla. -- These uncertain days for the NFL Players Association were underlined Thursday by the fact it has no executive director and the team owners are opting out of the collective bargaining agreement.

In the union's first news conference since leader Gene Upshaw died in August, there was more posturing than news. But NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and acting executive director Richard Berthelsen insisted the process for finding Upshaw's replacement is progressing on schedule and that the league's cutting off the CBA after the 2010 season made little sense.

"What Gene would have wanted most was for us to carry on with the business of the union," said Berthelsen, the players' longtime counsel, who is not one of five finalists to replace Upshaw. "Our mission is to not only retain the partnership we have with NFL owners but improve on it.

"We have seen unprecedented labor peace in our sport and unprecedented prosperity together with the owners. We think have a pretty good thing going," he said.

A thing that will end after an uncapped 2010 season if the two sides don't negotiate a new CBA. So Berthelsen presented evidence the union believes confirms just how prosperous the 32 teams are.

A union-commissioned study showed the average value of the teams has grown from $288 million to $1.04 billion over 10 years, an increase of about 14 percent a year. Berthelsen said the average gain in the last year alone was $82.6 million, and he defied anyone to find an industry "with similar numbers in this economy."

Noting that 95 percent of the Miami Dolphins sold for $1.1 billion earlier this month -- "pretty amazing," he said -- Berthelsen added that the average profit was $24.7 million in the last year. That would make for $107 million in average annual return, "a very good return for anybody in any economy."

With those numbers, the union questions why the owners would be dissatisfied with the CBA -- let alone venture toward the elimination of a salary cap. Mawae said the cap has worked well for all concerned but that the players won't ever accept again if it disappears in 2010.

Many NFL owners, however, believe the current agreement is too favorable for the players, who get about 60 percent of applicable revenues. Some owners whose franchises can't compete with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and other richer teams for outside revenues (naming rights, sponsorship deals, ancillary income) are aggressively seeking relief, and it only took nine negative votes last year to opt out of the CBA.

Berthelsen said the salary cap for 2009 will be $123 million, up from $116 million. The minimum salary for a 10-year veteran will be $845,000, while the rookie minimum will be $310,000.

The five finalists to replace Upshaw, as reported last week by The Associated Press, are former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong; former Bears tackle Jim Covert; Ben Utt, who played for Baltimore and Indianapolis; and Washington-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.

Mawae said three candidates will be presented to the union's executive board at its annual meeting in Hawaii in March. An election is scheduled to follow, and serious negotiating with the league won't take place before then.