NFLPA hopes to have independent arbitration for player discipline next season

By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 4, 2016 at 10:54 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO -- In a 2015 NFL season that featured a reduced suspension for Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and the elimination of a suspension for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL Players Association continues to strive toward what it believes will be a more equitable system of dealing with player issues.

Thursday, prior to the union's annual press conference, executive director DeMaurice Smith told The Sports Xchange he hopes to have a new agreement in place in time for the 2016 regular season.

"I'm cautiously optimistic we can reach a resolution," Smith said during the press conference. "We believe collectively bargained changes are good for everyone. In the meantime, we will continue to fight to protect players."

What Smith and the NFLPA hope is that the changes will lead to having independent arbitration as opposed to commissioner Roger Goodell being the one that hands out discipline and then makes the decision when appealed.

Although the NFL is appealing, Brady's suspension for allegedly being part of deflating footballs in last season's AFC Championship Game was thrown out by Judge Richard Berman prior to the start of the 2015 season.

Hardy was originally suspended 10 games by Goodell, but former NFL executive Harold Henderson was the arbitrator, and he slashed the suspension to four games.

In 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, acting as the appeals office in the New Orleans Saints bounty case, vacated the suspensions of four players: defensive ends Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove and linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Scott Fujita.

Smith hopes that agreeing on an independent arbitrator will serve to settle the grievance filed by the union during the 2014 season when Goodell implemented a new personal conduct policy. The NFLPA argued there were at least 10 instances within the policy that should have been collectively bargained.

"There is no pleasure in gearing up for another court battle," Smith said Thursday. "But we will strive to vindicate player rights and the validity of the contract. It is the job of the union to remind the league we have a CBA and will fight for those rights."

--Also noted by Smith is that the union expects player costs, including benefits, to approach $200 million per team in 2016.

"The media always focuses on cash in the salary cap, but the benefits are a significant part of the package," Smith said.

He added that the actual cap has increased by about $10 million each of the last two years and said that could happen in 2016. This coming year will be the final year of the four-year rolling requirement that every team spend 89 percent of the salary cap in actual cash. According to Smith, only two teams -- the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars -- enter 2016 short of that requirement. The Raiders are about $41 million under and the Jaguars $28 million.

--Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis was named the winner of the organization's Byron "Whizzer" White Award, which annually recognizes players who go above and beyond to perform community service in their team cities and hometowns.

Each team nominates one player, and Davis was selected from a group of finalists that included New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings, Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker and New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson.

Davis' Defending Dreams Foundation will receive a $100,000 grant from sponsor Delta Private Jets. Last year, Davis won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Because Davis was with the Panthers Thursday, his wife, Kelly, accepted in his absence. The foundation is built on the principles of "educate, empower, defend." It strives to encourage students to develop the essential life and social skills that will make them leaders of tomorrow through education, leadership development and volunteerism.

Kelly Davis said the money will go toward expanding the foundation's Youth Leadership Academy, including having a building for its activities.

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