"We want to keep playing," said Colts center Jeff Saturday, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee. "Until the owners lock the doors and don't let us in, every one of my guys is going to show up and be ready to play games."
Added NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen: "Any suggestion that we want a lockout is coming from outer space."
Union officials spoke to reporters a day after Batterman told the Washington Post that the NFLPA is strategically angling for a lockout.
The back-and-forth attempts to assign fault - or at least avoid blame - came as the league and union said there have been no formal exchanges of proposals since early December.
"You need a serious negotiating partner in order to have a negotiation. What we have been getting back in terms of responses is not conducive to making a deal," Batterman said.
"We haven't really had any meaningful, substantive responses that are forthcoming," Berthelsen said. He said less formal discussions take place every week, and are where most of the progress takes place.
The two sides last held a large, formal meeting around Thanksgiving, officials on both sides said Thursday. In early December, each side made proposals, but both the league and union said the other side proved unwilling to negotiate.
The union put forward ideas about rookie wages, according to the NFLPA. The league offered another plan to go to an 18-game schedule, with two preseason games, and offered changes to the preseason and off-season schedules, Batterman said.
Batterman said that if the league doesn't get an 18-game regular-season schedule, its alternative is to stay at 16 games and cut two preseason contests. He said the league could make that change unilaterally.
"That, of course, costs them a couple hundred million dollars. Their paychecks go down if that is what we are forced to do. That we can do on our own," Batterman said.
Going to 18 games, he said, would generate an additional $500 million, to be shared by the two sides.
Batterman, whom the NFLPA said aided the NHL when that league lost an entire season to a lockout, said the NFL doesn't want a lockout, but in the same interview he defended the league's right to use that tool.
"I believe the union leadership and counsel want a lockout. Their strategy is to try and stop us from exercising our federally protected right to a lockout. It is a perfectly legitimate, legal, economic weapon in collective bargaining," Batterman told the AP. He later added, "No employer in its right mind wants to shut down its business. There is damage when there is either a strike or a lockout. . . . It is in the employer's interest to get a deal which gets this industry straightened out for the next generation for the good of the fans; for the good of the players; and, yes indeed, the good of the owners."
Batterman has pointed to the players association's legal maneuvers - voting to allow a decertification of the union, threatening an antitrust lawsuit - as evidence that the NFLPA would rather resort to the courts than negotiations.
But the union has often pointed out that the owners voted to end the current collective-bargaining agreement, creating the need for a new deal. NFLPA leaders said they would not resort to the courts unless the owners first initiated a lockout.
"Players want to play, so we're not doing anything until we're locked out by the owners," Saturday said. "Everything that we would have to do would be because owners put us in a situation that we would have to react."
Despite the sluggish pace of negotiations, Batterman said a deal could still be worked out by March 4, when the collective-bargaining agreement expires.
"There is no question that a deal could be done, which is a different question than if a deal will be done. I just don't see the union being willing to make the compromises at this point," Batterman said.
Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or email@example.com.
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