NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said he was optimistic a new labor agreement could be reached with the NFL Players Association, even though the two sides seem far apart in their stances on some key issues, including HGH testing, an 18-game season and a rookie wage scale.
"There will be an agreement, I am very confident of that. I can't tell you when, but we are going to work as hard as we can," Pash said Thursday in an interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning."
Pash was a guest of the program to respond to comments made by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who laid out the players' case Wednesday on the program.
On Wednesday, Smith said the players were happy with the current agreement, in which the players kept approximately 60 percent of the league's total revenue, before the owners opted out of the deal.
"The players haven't asked for anything," Smith said. "The owners opted out of this deal. We've told them that we're happy with the deal the way it is right now before the uncapped year. We were willing to extend the current deal for another six years."
Pash said the sides have been meeting regularly but said the uncertainty of the economy is one of the reasons an agreement hasn't been reached yet.
"Businesses all over America are sitting on cash. They are not hiring, they are not expanding because they don't know what the economy is gong to be like," Pash said.
Pash, however, said there were key issues that needed to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement.
"That's a code for saying it's a pretty one-sided deal," Pash said, answering Smith's comments that the players were happy with the last CBA.
"We'll continue on with a system where if a player shoots himself in a bar and goes to jail, he gets to keep his signing bonuses. We'll continue on where there isn't testing for growth hormone. We'll continue on with a system where there's four preseason games that if the fans have been clear about anything, they don't want those games," Pash said, detailing why the owners weren't satisfied with the past deal.
Pash said the players have rejected the owners' request that players be subject to HGH testing.
"Our understanding of the science is that there have been substantial advances," he said. "The Olympic anti-doping authorities have validated the test. We think it's at the point where it's appropriate to introduce it into the NFL."
The players, concerned about safety issues, also haven't agreed to an 18-game regular season.
"As part of a restructuring of the season, we should look at how we handle offseason workouts; how we handle practice regiments, roster sizes, injured reserve rules, a whole host of things that could be part of an overall restructuring of the football calendar to address the injury concerns," Pash said.
On Wednesday, when asked why no first-round draft picks had been signed, Smith addressed speculation that collusion by owners might be the answer.
"It's our job to take a look at the real evidence, the anecdotal evidence and to decide when and if to take action," Smith said.
Pash said Thursday that it's normal for so many top draft picks to remain unsigned at this point and used as evidence the fact that only two first-rounders -- Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez -- were signed at this point last year. He said he expected this year's first-rounders to start to sign soon.
On Thursday, Pash talked about the need for a rookie wage scale in the next CBA.
"There's no reason why a player should come into the NFL and before he has his first practice he's one of the highest-paid players not only in his league but in all of professional sports," Pash said.
Pash said the league went to players at the end of last season regarding a rookie wage scale that would take effect for this year's draft picks.
On Wednesday, Smith said the players proposed a rookie wage scale that would take $200 million out of the rookie signing pool and redistribute $100 million to retiree benefits and the other $100 million to proven veterans.
However, Pash revealed, the players' demand that rookies be limited to three-year contracts and then be eligible for unrestricted free agency was a deal-breaker. Players currently are eligible for unrestricted free agency after their fourth season, and first-round picks typically sign for at least five years.
"That completely undermines the whole system of competitive balance in this league," Pash said. "It makes it impossible for teams to build and plan for the future. It makes it impossible to do sensible roster planning."
Pash was hopeful the sides could reach agreement on the issues piece by piece, smoothing the way later for an overall agreement.
"If we can do that then we can build progress and the tougher issues might not be so tough in the end," Pash said.