Lockout declared: What does it all mean?

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Lockout declared: What does it all mean?

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Posted: 10:32 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

NFL players may have elected to decertify their union and take up matters through the courts system but the league is not done with them.

The NFL issued a statement Saturday that called on the players to return immediately to negotiations while laying out many of the issues the owners believe were part of a good deal left on the table.

In its statement the NFL declared:

The fastest way to a fair agreement is for both the union and the clubs to continue the mediation process. Unfortunately, the players union notified our office at 4pm ET on Friday that it had decertified and walked away from mediation and collective bargaining to initiate the antitrust litigation it has been threatening to file. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, the clubs offered a deal that would have had no adverse financial impact upon veteran players in the early years and would meet the players financial demands in the latter years.

The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players (82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).

The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs.

The expanded health and safety rules would include a reduction in offseason programs of five weeks (from 14 to nine) and of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) from 14 to 10; significant reductions in the amount of contact in practices; and other changes.

Taking issue

After a period of limited public comments by either side, viewed by most as an indication that progress was being made and that neither side wished to create antagonism, the NFL on Saturday was considerably less conciliatory, bringing in an unspecified comparison to situations such as Wisconsin public workers losing their rights to collective bargaining.

Continuing with its statement, the NFL said:

At a time when thousands of employees are fighting for their collective bargaining rights, this union has chosen to abandon collective bargaining in favor of a sham decertification and antitrust litigation. This litigation maneuver is built on the indisputably false premise that the NFLPA has stopped being a union and will merely delay the process of reaching an agreement.

The NFL clubs remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached. The NFL calls on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table.

Since June of 2009, 21 months ago, the NFL clubs have made numerous comprehensive, detailed proposals and counter-proposals; negotiated in dozens of formal sessions and smaller group meetings; and engaged in a series of intensive negotiating sessions over the past three weeks under the auspices of George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. We have reaffirmed to Director Cohen our commitment to the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached.

The goals of the NFL clubs have been clear from the start. The current CBA is flawed in numerous respects, and the system must be improved to ensure continued growth and innovation and a better future for the NFL, the players, and the fans.

The clubs are willing to make many changes proposed by the union, and they have modified their economic proposals in numerous respects. We need an agreement that when looking back two, four or 10 years from now both sides will recognize as fair, smart, good for the game, and good for all involved, including players, fans, and clubs.

Regrettably, the union's leadership has walked out and is refusing to participate in collective bargaining. The union has insisted on a continuation of an unsustainable status quo rather than agreeing to reasonable adjustments that reflect new economic realities we all have experienced. The status quo would also mean no improvements for retired players, too much money to a handful of rookies, and no changes to improve our drug programs.

As promised

While the situation will ultimately fall to the courts to decide, the league officially declared the lockout that has been threatened for as much as two years, or since the owners exercised their option to exit the existing collective bargaining agreement.

The union's abandonment of bargaining has forced the clubs to take action they very much wanted to avoid. At the recommendation of the Management Council Executive Committee under the authority it has been delegated by the clubs, the league has informed the union that it is taking the difficult but necessary step of exercising its right under federal labor law to impose a lockout of the union. The clubs are committed to continuing to negotiate until an agreement is reached, and will gladly continue to work with the FMCS.

The clubs believe that this step is the most effective way to accelerate efforts to reach a new agreement without disruption to the 2011 season. The clubs want to continue negotiating intensively to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible. Our goal is finding common ground and resolving the issues with the union. That is why we ask the union to resume negotiations with the federal mediator. The negative consequences for the players and clubs will continue to escalate the longer it takes to reach an agreement.

And to the fans:

The league made a push for the high ground in the court of public opinion:

Our message to the fans is this: We know that you are not interested in any disruption to your enjoyment of the NFL. We know that you want football. You will have football. This will be resolved. Our mission is to do so as soon as possible and put in place with the players an improved collective bargaining agreement that builds on our past success and makes the future of football and the NFL even better for the teams, players, and fans.

We have great respect for the fans. We have great respect for our players. We have great respect for the game and the tradition of the NFL. We will do everything that we reasonably can to ensure that everyones attention returns to the football field as soon as possible.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Once upon an NFL time a Bears-49ers game held some consequence, sometimes great import. Even last season the San Francisco game was the Bears’ chance to reach .500 in John Fox’s first year (it didn’t happen, with the Bears defense allowing a long Blaine Gabbert TD run and Robbie Gould missing a 36-yard field goal for the win, all in the last 1:42 of a game the Bears had dominated statistically).

Now the game becomes another in a string of ones in which the opponent and even the outcome matter less than some specific personnel issues for a team trying to avoid losing four straight games for the first time under Fox.

Several of those personnel questions warrant watching because of the positions involved:

Matt Barkley, quarterback   

The Barkley Era unofficially began last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans when the former USC quarterback got his first NFL start and nearly became the third Bears quarterback to win a game in an otherwise dismal season. That did happen once, in 2007 when Brian Griese, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton also had W’s as starters.

Well, if not an actual “era,” at least the Barkley window opened, and will be open for the foreseeable 2016 future.

Barkley playing his way into a starting job in 2017 is not a front-burner thought — yet — although Kurt Warner once played his way from stocking supermarket shelves into Hall of Fame consideration.

Going against one of the only two teams with fewer wins than the Bears, Barkley’s chances are ostensibly better than they were facing the Titans, if only for “just being comfortable,” said Fox.

“Our opponent, Colin Kaepernick has been in for X amount of time. And like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. Hopefully. Just getting him more reps. More reps with the 1’s. I think there’s a drastic difference between him coming in as the back-up in Green Bay versus him being the starter last week against Tennessee. So hopefully he improves from his first start to his second start. That’s the plan and that’s what we’re working off.”

Quarterback is always a point of supreme interest and Barkley is playing for a shot somewhere in 2017. And the Bears want to know if some of the positives in the Tennessee game were real.

“With Matt, the biggest challenge was he wasn’t here in OTAs and training camp, so you don’t know him,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “He was out there running scout team, running ‘cards,’ so you know what kind of talent he has, but he never had gotten a two-minute — that was his first two-minute drill with the first group in a game situation.”

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Daniel Braverman, wide receiver

Braverman was a seventh-round draft choice who flashed in training camp but faded in games. He was elevated from the practice squad and is projected into a slot role with Eddie Royal injured again and the future unclear at that No. 3 wideout spot.

“There are not a lot of great slot receivers out there in the game,” Loggains said. “You’ve got to be able to move the chains, and you’ve got to be able to convert third downs and do those things and score in the red area. You have to understand coverages and leverages to be able to do that stuff. Those are the things that Braverman, coming into the NFL, his biggest challenge is.”

Daniel Brown, tight end

The season-ending foot injury to Zach Miller created another vacuum at a position the Bears have struggled to fill long-term: trading away the likes of Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen and even Mike Ditka. Brown caught his first career TD pass in the Tennessee game. With Miller’s injury history and age (32), the Bears have a need at the position.

“We thought obviously he’s a guy that has a skill set probably closet to Zach at this point to plug in and play,” Loggains said. “But he did a nice job, helped up on third down, helped us in the red area. Just his ability to catch the football, he’s played receiver before and he’s more of a pass-catching tight end.”

Kyle Fuller, cornerback

Fuller, who led the Bears with two interceptions last year, has been a starter at a position that is a defensive priority. He is coming back from August knee surgery and into a secondary that is takeaway challenged. His goals are basic at this point.

“Just getting back on the field and just performing,” Fuller said.

Jay Cutler is one more massive blow to Bears' real evaluation plan

Jay Cutler is one more massive blow to Bears' real evaluation plan

The shoulder injury to Jay Cutler in the New York Giants game did more than end the quarterback’s season. It landed yet another injury blow to the 2016 season, another in a succession of blows with implications for the Bears stretching beyond the point when the calendar mercifully turns over a new year.

The ripple effect of those blows might be spun into some sort of positive around the development of young players. That would be making the best of a bad situation, but it is anything but positive in the more important long term.

The Bears began this season needing to see what they have in foundation/starter pieces, NOT backups. The Bears did not need to find out what they have in Matt Barkley as much as they needed to fully find out what they had in Jay Cutler. That was a prime directive coming into this season. The thumb injury that cost him five games was a huge setback in the process; the shoulder issue finished it, and not the way coaches and personnel staff wanted it to resolve.

And Cutler was not alone.

Cutler. Alshon Jeffery. Kevin White. Kyle Fuller. Hroniss Grasu. Those were A-list see-what-they-have questions. The closest thing the Bears have to clear answers on just that handful of one-time projected starters is Cutler, whose poor play and injury history conspire to make one aspect of the Bears’ decision for them. The Bears will end this season short of clear answers on them and others as they go into the 2017 draft and free agency.

A clichéd mantra throughout the injury travails of the Bears’ injury riddled season is that all those injuries have created opportunities for the Bears to really see what they have in some alternative players, ranging from wide receiver Cam Meredith to a seemingly weekly carousel of young cornerbacks to Barkley most recently. Evaluations obviously are more meaningful when they’re based on actual game experience, with the Barkleys, Merediths and others are certainly getting.

But it is also exactly the kind of see-what-they-have opportunities that the Bears do NOT need and in fact are at risk of making critically important offseason decisions more difficult, if not bordering on the impossible.

Including Fuller, coach John Fox and staff came out of the Tennessee game with fully 11 actual or anticipated opening-day starters out due to injury or suspension.

What the Bears are getting from what at times feels like an extended preseason is a better look at their depth chart. Eric Kush has emerged as a solid guard. Meredith has looked like an NFL receiver, last Sunday’s drops notwithstanding. Barkley will be worth a meaningful look in a training camp.

But those are not the evaluations that a franchise looking at the next step in its plan desperately, unequivocally needed. As in:

Quarterback

If Barkley emerges from his opportunity as a serviceable NFL quarterback, that’s good. But this year was about Cutler, a prove-it year for a quarterback with a favorable contract going forward. But while thumb and shoulder injuries gave looks to Barkley and Brian Hoyer, those weren’t what the franchise needed. Cutler’s truncated body of work (is the “real” Cutler the Minnesota Jay or the Tampa Bay Jay?) didn’t “prove” anything the Bears needed proven at their most critical position.

It would be speculation to muse on whether Cutler might have played his way into the plan with five good games to finish the season. Even if not, Cutler may have played his way into possibly some trade value. A 33-year-old QB finishing a two-injury season on IR has little, if any. The Bears do not need to make a final roster decision until the first game Sunday in September, at which point Cutler’s $12.5 million base salary would become guaranteed, although Cutler still being a Bear at that point is the longest of shots.

Wide receiver

Kevin White has caught 19 passes and played in just four games in the two seasons since the Bears made him the No. 7 pick overall in 2015. Meredith or Marquess Wilson may be nuggets, but White’s broken leg left the Bears and the young man in limbo.

The Bears don’t know what they have in White. They know a little about what they have in Jeffery, but his four-game suspension hits in a season with him on pace for his lowest totals since his rookie season. The Jeffery issue has not been resolved, and progress by Meredith or Wilson, while positives, do not project into a tipping point in this position group.

Cornerback

How sold the new coaching has been on Fuller as a starting corner is unclear. He hadn’t missed a game in his two seasons and played 99 percent of opponents’ snaps last year. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called Fuller out early in the 2015 season and Fuller was benched for some of the Arizona game. Fuller rebounded to a level of respectability and finished fifth in tackles (56) and led the Bears with two interceptions.

Fuller has been out since mid-August when he needed knee surgery. His absence has given extended looks and some starts to Jacoby Glenn, Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc.

But the Bears needed to achieve clarity with Fuller. They will face an extensive decision on whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The Falcons paid $8 million on the option for 2013 first-round cornerback Desmond Trufant, the 22nd pick of that draft. If Fuller manages to practice his way onto the active roster this Sunday, it will still give the Bears just five games to make a decision on Fuller, the 14th pick of the 2014 draft.