Some agents tweeted pessimistically about the talks from the information session, leading to some confusion over whether they were reflecting what Smith said, or just airing the agents' opinion of the state of affairs.
"I came away with two impressions," agent Mark Slough said after emerging from the session. "This is not going to be resolved soon, and the agent community is solidly behind De. I left feeling more confident in our union leadership. The owners are trying to send us back to pre-1987 levels."
Of course, 1987 was when the NFL endured its most recent labor stoppage, complete with games played by replacement players.
"We don't need to go there. We won't go there," Slough said. "I came to a better understanding of our positions after an hour-and-a-half of DeMaurice Smith answering questions."
At the end of the morning confab, before Smith emerged, the union sent out a "Fab Four" of influential agents - Drew Rosenhaus, Tom Condon, Ben Dogra and Joel Segal - to speak with reporters about how unified the agents are and how ardently they all support Smith.
Rosenhaus predictably dominated the briefing, speaking with an evangelical fervor.
"I've got a lot of faith in De Smith and the NFLPA leadership. I've got great faith in our game. It's a very healthy game. There's a lot of money being made," Rosenhaus said. "I haven't seen any reason why the owners wouldn't want to get a deal done. I've been an agent for 23 years, and there hasn't been a work stoppage. Why would there be now? Things have never been better. What's the problem? I'm still waiting to find out. I think the union's position has been extremely fair and, you know, quite frankly, the owners need to be able to see that. They could hurt their game dramatically by locking their players out, by turning their back on their players when things are going so well."
Conventional wisdom holds that a lockout hurts players more than owners, who can better afford to think in the long term. Rosenhaus took a swing at that notion.
"There are some real problems for the teams," Rosenhaus said. "It's not just the players and the union. The owners need to be concerned, too. They've invested a tremendous amount of money in the players that they have under contract. There's no way for them to get better. They can't sign guys. They can't make trades. They're limited during the draft. They can only trade picks. They can't cut players once there's a lockout. They can't work their guys out. Their coaches can't talk to their players. The drug [testing] program ends. This is really a huge problem for the owners. It's not just us sitting here saying, 'Oh, wow, what about us?' The owners have some significant issues, and it's serious on their end. They're feeling it right now, believe me."
Rosenhaus said Smith wanted to "make sure the players are prepared if there is a lockout, prepare themselves, should we miss the season, to be strong, to be unified."
Rosenhaus said the union started warning agents and players to be prepared for upcoming trouble in 2009.
"I know that the agents and the players have done that," he said. "We're ready."
There was some confusion about something Smith apparently said during the meeting about the league possibly stipulating that agents couldn't talk to teams about college players at, say, college pro days, if there is a lockout. Condon said all normal activity with draft-eligible players will continue through the April 28-30 draft. If there is a lockout, though, there will be no talks toward signings of draftees or undrafted free agents, and of course, no postdraft minicamp.
Segal was asked about client Michael Vick, who received the exclusive franchise tag from the Eagles but hasn't accepted it. Segal was asked whether he would advise Vick to consider himself an Eagle, and not a free agent, during the prospective impasse.
Segal said Vick would keep himself in shape to play.
"Mike is always excited to play football," Segal said.
Later, Segal held a confab with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman in a corridor outside the meeting. They seemed very happy to see each other.
One agent, not among the "Fab Four," said he and his cohorts feel powerless in the process. That agent said he didn't think anyone on the union side has any idea what will happen, whether there will be a lockout, whether it will start next week.
"The only guy who knows that isn't here," the agent said. He was referring to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Another agent said there really is only one issue - how to split revenues. Once that is resolved, matters such as the rookie wage scale will fall in line, the agent said. That agent also thinks the talks will be extended next week, past the "lockout" date. *
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