NEW YORK -- Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote NFL players Thursday, outlining the league's last proposal to the union and cautioning that "each passing day puts our game and our shared economics further at risk."
Goodell ended the letter by telling players: "I hope you will encourage your union to return to the bargaining table and conclude a new collective bargaining agreement."
Talks between the teams' owners and the NFL Players Association broke off last Friday, the 16th day of federal mediation in Washington. The union dissolved that afternoon, allowing players to file a class-action antitrust suit in federal court. Hours later, owners locked out the players, creating the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
"I've told my guys to take the letter and set it on fire. We're not that stupid," said Seattle Seahawks guard Chester Pitts, whose reaction was relayed by NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah.
Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon called it "very distasteful" for Goodell to send out such a letter.
"If we were in court, I would compare to a lawyer trying to
lead a witness," Witherspoon texted the AP on Thursday night. "I
duly object to the fact he has highlighted his highpoints but not
given them any ground to stand on!"
Goodell wrote that the NFLPA "walked out of the federal mediator's offices ... and filed a lawsuit." He also said owners "are prepared to resume those negotiations at any time."
"We need to come together, and soon," Goodell wrote.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Thursday there's no reason talks can't occur between the players and owners before the April 6 lockout injunction hearing, according to a report on ProFootballTalk.com.
"What came out of the Reggie White lawsuit?" Smith said during a Thursday interview with Mike Francesa of WFAN in New York. "A CBA that has done nothing but grow the game. We have lawyers and class counsel who are representing us. There's no reason why those lawyers and class counsel and lawyers for the league can't get together and talk and negotiate."
Despite the fact that both sides have said they are willing to meet, sources tell ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that they are not expected to meet until after the ruling on the preliminary injunction, which will be heard on April 6.
Goodell told players he wants them to "understand the offer that we made," a proposal put forth during the final day of negotiations.
"We believe the offer presented a strong and fair basis for continuing negotiations, allowing the new league year and free agency to begin, and growing our game in the years to come," Goodell said.
His letter goes point-by-point through 10 categories Goodell said were included in the NFL's last proposal. Among them:
• Salary and benefits would be $141 million per club in 2011, and rise to $161 million by 2014;
• Free agency after four seasons;
• Less offseason work and fewer padded practices in the preseason and regular season;
• Keeping a 16-game regular season for at least the next two seasons and not changing to 18 games without the union's agreement;
• Guaranteeing up to $1 million of a second year of a player's contract if he is injured and can't return to play;
• A new rookie compensation system;
• A jointly appointed neutral arbitrator for all drug and steroid appeals.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.