Updated: 8 p.m.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith used his Thursday news conference for a variety of reasons.
He not only vocalized the NFLPA's frustration at the NFL's opening offer in the collective bargaining agreement negotiations, but he also showcased the union's new commitment to what he calls the "retired players" making sure they are no longer called "former players," and putting them on stage with current players on a day he announced a partnership with AARP. Smith wants to take two percent of all revenues and contribute it to a "Legacy Fund" for retired players.
One of those Smith reached out to was former Bengals running back Ki-Jana Carter, the overall No. 1 pick in 1995 whose career was cut short by a devastating string of injuries. At 36, Carter owns a company based here, ByoGlobe, which sells what he describes as "eco friendly products that sanitize and disinfect" homes and businesses. Among his clients are the Reds, Bengals and Dolphins, as well as daycare centers and cruise lines.
Carter said he didn't meet Smith until Sunday night's Pro Bowl party, and Smith immediately invited him to Thursday's unveiling.
"I've kept in touch with the NFLPA ever since I retired but I didn't meet him until then," Carter said after the news conference. "He's definitely a new face that came out, but you get the sense from his speech today that he wants to help the former players ... we need to help out. The current players are going to be like us. They're going to be retired players. As a young guy you don't see that. You don't see the big picture until later."
He says the guy he always thinks about is former Bengals guard Brian DeMarco, a fellow Ohio native who came out of Michigan State the same year Carter came out of Penn State. Injuries have crippled DeMarco so badly that Carter says he can barely walk and his wife has to dress him.
"We're morally obligated to help them," Carter said.
But the retired players ended up taking a back seat to Smith's stance on the CBA negotiations.
A few minutes after The Who rocked a news conference with "Won't Get Fooled Again," Smith rocked the Super Bowl Thursday with the first public shot across the bow in the stalemate between owners and players over a new collective bargaining agreement.
In response to a question asked by Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco in his role as anchor of the Ochocinco News Network, Smith said the chance of a lockout of the 2011 season is a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10 primarily because the league has proposed the players take an 18-percent slash in their share of revenues. Later, Smith said he believed there would not be a salary cap in the future if the NFL goes through an uncapped year in 2010, which everyone expects to start in 29 days.
The NFL, Smith says, is looking to cut back the players' share of revenue from 59 percent to 41 percent, a reduction he can't understand because he says the league made $8 billion last year and the 32 teams averaged $31 million in profits. The NFL figures to give its side of the negotiations at commissioner Roger Goodell's Friday news conference.
"We have to prepare for what we have not seen before and that's a lockout and if we don't we're doing a big injustice to our players," said Titans center Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president. "The status quo is fine. We have not asked for anything greater. We have not asked for anything better. We have not asked for one extra benefit. We have not asked for anything other than, show us. The deal as it stands now is a pretty good deal. At least we think it is."
NFL owners are coming off a year in which many teams laid off employees and instituted other cutbacks while some have gone public in the past few weeks talking about the difficult economy and the bad deal they struck with the players in 2006. Smith said he can't understand the recent remarks of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in which he said several NFL owners are struggling.
"I've got partners out there right now whose teams are making less money than their linebackers," he said. "I think we've got an acute problem here with the general profitability of the teams."
But Smith, who says he wants to see the proof of the struggles in the NFL books that have yet to be opened, pointed to the league's $5 billion guarantee in TV money through 2013. Revenues that Smith called "lockout insurance."
"It makes it incredibly difficult to then come back to the players and say on an average that each of you needs to take a $340,000 pay cut to save the National Football League," Smith said. "Tough sell. Tough sell."
Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals NFLPA player representative, said Thursday night he agrees with Smith's conclusion that a lockout is real.
"When you have continued profits and the TV money continues to go up and your employer wants to cut you 20 percent, you'd like to know why," Whitworth said. "I think the big thing is they won't show us the books and yet they want to completely change a system that they agreed to a couple of years ago and they don't want to just go down three or five or eight percent. They want to completely change it. It's not that we don't want to go to the table, but right now there is no table."