On the first day of the NFL lockout, Bengals president Mike Brown sat down with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com and Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer in his Paul Brown Stadium office. Here is the transcript.
(Giants owner) John Mara said after the NFLPA decertified that he didn't get a sense in the last two weeks they wanted to negotiate.
I think people on our side have been through this before. In 1990 the union wanted to decertify and sue. We have a union that unlike unions elsewhere seems not to want to collectively bargain. Rather it wants to go to court. This is very un-union like. They have used this strategy before. We think they are about the same thing once more. It is a sham on their part to decertify. In our opinion they have every intention of reconstituting at some point and that the decertification is merely a gambit to gain entry to the federal court system with a lawsuit and leverage us with that threat.
How did you feel about your last offer?
"I thought it was a very generous offer and thought it was going to bring the union into serious talks. It was disappointing it didn't do that. They stood by their long-term strategy. This offer didn't ask veteran players to take a step back. It offered things that were important monetarily to the retired players. I think we offered to set up a fund of $82 million over the next couple of years. It offered the veteran players better working conditions in that it made fewer demands on them in the offseason. It cut back the OTAs from 14 to nine in the weeks the sessions were up and running.
The union countered and said the owners wanted them to go back to 2007 levels of compensation.
It came down to the obvious point that all that mattered to the union was money. And these other things certainly didn't matter enough to weigh in the scale appreciably. When they make statements (that) it was a step backwards, it's not a step backwards for the veteran players. It is asking the high draft picks to take less, but the savings produced from what would have gone to them otherwise are to be distributed to the veteran players and old-time players. That's one of the ways possible to keep them at their current levels or better. Our people at the end tried to split the difference. We understood the difference was $640 million and our people offered to split the difference and that was rejected. I don't apologize for the offer. These are guys that average, what, $2 million a year? It's a tremendous situation they have. And it has become burdensome for the teams. Yes, the teams are asking for some relief going forward. I don't think that was unreasonable. Especially for the union's core constituency. The veteran players who weren't asked to take a step backwards at all.
On two of three core issues, the rookie wage scale and the 18-game schedule, it seems like you guys made concessions.
We offered to make no change in the schedule as it is, which is what they wanted. They didn't want to go to 18 regular season games. That was for the next two years, and if there was going to be change in that we offered to include them in the discussion and they would have to approve. (In the last CBA) we had the right to do it unilaterally.
The first-round draft picks can still negotiate a contract in a rookie wage scale?
They can still negotiate. There will be restraints put on how they can be paid and how much will be paid to them as a group and per team. Their pay would effectively be curtailed. But everyone pretty much agrees, untested new players to the system don't deserve to be paid as though they're the best players on the team. That this money should be reallocated and it is being reallocated to the veterans and the old-timers. And the rookies from the second to the seventh round are not being asked to take less.
You've been through a lot of work stoppages. What's the difference in this one? Is there more mistrust?
I've been through ups and downs in labor negotiations in the National Football League. I can say one thing is similar about all of them. At some point they do come to an end and you get back together and go out and do what we do and play football. This one will be no different.
It's a little bit different in this is not the union striking. We've had these situations before. The union is entitled to strike. That's one of the devices, strategies the law gives unions in these economic negotiations. Just as it gives us the right to lock out. It's the same for both. Each can create a work stoppage. In the past it has been the union that created a work stoppage by striking. This time it is our side that created a work stoppage with the lockout. That doesn't mean to say we would have stopped bargaining. We intended to bargain during the lockout, but now that they have decertified. I don't know if there's anyone to bargain with.
What's the time frame? What's next?
I think what's next are court proceedings that will determine if the union can decertify. Whether we can lock out. These will be the issues settled over the next few weeks.
I think we're just going to have to wait and find out. I certainly hope that it is as fast as possible because I think it deserves and needs to get back to negotiations. Just walking away from each other is not going to create a solution that works.
Say the court stops the lockout. Can the league operate for another year or two if they use the rules from 2010?
I think what would happen is we would appeal that decision. If it comes to pass the courts, meaning both the district court and circuit court said we couldn't lock out, we would have to determine our course of action and that hasn't been settled yet. So I'm not going to step forward and make a prediction. I don't know how we would react. One of the things that we talked about is what you suggest in your question. Going back and operating under the rules we operated with in 2010. Maybe that's how it would turn out. I don't know at this point.
How do you run your team? You need a Plan A, a Plan B…
You take it step by step. The first thing that will happen is the court in Minneapolis will make a ruling and that will affect how the parties proceed and maybe no matter which way it goes there will be an appeal and the court will make a ruling and that will be more definitive. Set the guidelines for how we go forward. We're going to have to wait and be patient a little bit while this unfolds. I don't think it's going to take all that long. I certainly hope we can get an answer soon. Everyone wants an answer. The fans for sure want an answer and deserve one.
Can you see football being played in 2011?
I am planning on football being played in 2011. That's what I believe will happen. I'm just as anxious for it to happen as anybody. If not more so.
If there is a protracted lockout that goes into summer or early fall, how is the health of this franchise to others? Can you ride it out longer than others?
I don't know I can tell you how strong others are. I can merely tell you our franchise has built up a considerable reserve. We have not paid one dime to our shareholders since we've operated in Paul Brown Stadium beyond what was necessary to pay taxes. We have put money where we would need it if we came to this kind of situation. We've had concerns for a long time that we could get to where we are now and we are prepared for it.
So unlike other franchises that have done furloughs and layoffs, you're not going down that route?
We have no plans to make our employees carry this burden unduly. They will be asked to do something but we are going to keep our people under hire and support them. That's part of what we prepared to do over these years. We have an obligation to our people and we are not going to ask them to carry an unfair burden.
You and Ralph (Wilson) voted against the CBA five years ago. Do you think the fellow owners have realized where you are financially?
I don't think owners sit around worry about how owners voted five years ago. They know what they voted on. Right now people recognize what we did was a step too far and we are trying to get our situation such where it works for the teams going forward. The teams need to be economically healthy if they are to keep on employing people including players. You can only pay out what you take in for so long and we don't want to get into that situation. The public should want a healthy team because they want a competitive team and you can't be competitive unless you're financially strong to compete. We are.
We've been up and down over the last six years. I think we've done better than most as far as getting into the playoffs. They keep throwing figures out that you haven't done as well as you should but recently we've done fairly well. I wish it was better. I wish we would've gotten into the playoffs and won more. That bothers us. We have not had a record that is unacceptable over the last half dozen years. I wish it was better but it was in many ways getting into the playoffs better than most. You need to be economically healthy in order to do that (14 of the 32 teams have won more than one division title in past six years).
Are the owners united?
The owners are very united. They are prepared to make this step because they know it is best for professional football in this country in the long run. It is the fact from time to time if you don't stand up to union demands you will get in trouble. We have seen that in industry after industry. Even the government with the public unions. We want to keep our business a healthy one for the long haul. We think it's time that we have to stand up to do that.
Can you compare that to the unity of past work stoppages?
I don't have any doubts about the owners staying together on this one. They believe they need to be done.
Is this a harder process because the two main public figures (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith) are new to this?
I am not going to judge the negotiators. I have great confidence in our commissioner and how he is leading us and I am sure the players have confidence in De Smith. I am also sure they don't care how I feel about these men. I'm confident that our guy is very good in what he's about and his history with the NFL and he's been involved in these types of negotiations for many years.
When you've been in the room, has there been a different vibe than in years past?
They're always different. I don't know if it serves anything to get into what I perceive as differences. They're different in style and personality and qualities and issues. It's the way it is. No two are the same but there are core similarities.
Given your team's situation on the field, any pressure to get something done quickly?
Whatever issues we have with preparing for the season are going to take second place to getting our structure firmed up right for the future. I'm committed to getting this structure done right. No matter if that inconvenience us other ways.
Does the lockout affect talks with county about stadium lease?
"There aren't any talks going on with the county at this point."
Anything you want to say to the fans?
I know what the fans want; they want what we all want. I just ask for their patience as we work through it. It's a difficult situation and I want us to get it resolved right, quickly and I can tell you players and owners alike have one thing in common – they want to play football. That's going to weigh into the balance at some point and it will be good.
Did you feel in the past couple days a sense of resignation that it was falling apart?
I was in the bargaining meetings yesterday and we made an offer that we felt was extremely attractive. One of our owners commented that we were stupid to make it and they were stupid to reject it. It was the honest feeling from the part of ownership when we were sitting at that table that we had a good chance for them to come back and engage in a productive way. At the end of the day they made a proposal to us and we took it back to our room and were considering it when we were told they were leaving the building and announcing they were going to decertify and file a lawsuit. It was disappointing yet I can't say it was surprising.
One of the points was floor for a salary cap was 90 percent. How's that different from the past?
What it does is give players assurance that all teams will be paying at a comparable standard. It was done on an average of three years. This was done to meet a concern that the players had that some team was not going to choose to go all out. Every team goes all out. We all try our hardest. Sometimes you succeed better than others. This has been good for the players, too, on an economic basis. This isn't like some other sports where some teams have a humungous payroll and others have minimum payrolls.
You can't make a trade or sign anyone. Are you getting a little antsy?
It's not what we want. We want to be up and going about our business in a normal fashion. We will focus on the draft and it will be like drafts always been. That's one positive still in play.
How does that affect your strategy though if there is no free agency before the draft?
It leaves you with a concern. There are going to be a number of concerns going forward that we will have to deal with. What you'll do in the draft is pick the best guys you can pick.
How does the lockout affect Carson?
I don't want to talk about specific players. We're not allowed to deal with the players and I'm not looking to send messages through the media or to the player or the public about a player. That's a step too far under the ground rules we have with the lockout.
Do you prepare for all situations where free agency could begin at any time depending on the courts?
We're going to go down an unpredictable path and we'll try our best to prepare for the contingencies that might occur. No one can sit here today and say for sure what those are. We will address them as best we can.
A sad day since labor peace is over?
I regret that we are where we find ourselves yet circumstances have taken us to this point and now we do the best we can to get the wagon and the ox out of the ditch at some point and in condition to go forward better than ever. At some point I think we will.