Rooney: 'We'll eventually get back to negotiating'
NEW ORLEANS -- On the day the NFL submitted a 57-page legal filing disputing that the players had dissolved their union, Steelers president Art Rooney II said talking rather than litigating will ultimately end the league's first work stoppage since 1987.
"I think we'll eventually get back to negotiating," Rooney said Monday from the NFL owners meetings. "It's hard to predict when at this point, but I don't think there's any real good options other than that for anybody. Eventually both sides have to get back to the bargaining table."
Negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement broke down March 11 -- largely over how to divide revenue from a business that generated $9 billion last year.
The players de-certified their union and the owners responded by locking out the players. The two sides have since been on a course to collide in a Minnesota courtroom.
A group of players led by quarterbacks Drew Brees and Tom Brady filed an anti-trust lawsuit, seeking an injunction to end the lockout that has suspended most NFL business. The league has countered that the players are still acting as a union, and it has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that the NFL Players Association did not negotiate in good faith before de-certifying.
Minneapolis judge Susan Nelson is scheduled to hear the anti-trust lawsuit on April 6, and her decision could set off more legal maneuvering.
NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash said yesterday that a return to the bargaining table is the best way to head off courtroom wrangling.
"We could be back negotiating with them (today) or Wednesday if they wanted to after this meeting concludes," said Pash, the NFL's lead counsel. "The fact that there are proceedings at the Labor Board would not, in my judgment, hold up a negotiation or hold up trying to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association."
The two sides have traded barbs since their last talks abruptly ended following a one-week extension of negotiations.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson compared the NFL to modern-day slavery. Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall supported Peterson's claim on his Twitter account.
"It's just a frustrating time for the guys," Rooney said when asked about Mendenhall's posts on the popular social media network, "so I'm not going to get too worked up about it."
Mendenhall is not the only Steelers players that has spoken out against the owners.
Ryan Clark, the Steelers' alternate player representative, recently told 93.7 The Fan that his sons wouldn't automatically play in the NFL just because he did. To some, it seemed like a thinly veiled shot at families like the Rooneys, who have owned the Steelers since they were founded in 1933.
"I don't take that personally," Rooney said. "I've heard that comment from more than one player so I think it's one of those things. I don't take that personally. We go through these things and people say things and at the end of the day we've got to figure this out and get back to play football and get our team back together."
Rooney's father, Dan, has been a key figure in past labor negotiations.
But Dan Rooney, who had a close relationship with former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw, is now the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
"He's got his own responsibilities," Art Rooney said of this father, who is also chairman emeritus of the Steelers. "I'm sure if he had an opportunity to open a door somewhere, he would but as far as him coming back over here and negotiating with somebody, that's not his role."
The concern is that the NFL could lose games to labor strife for the first time since 1987 when the players when on strike during the season. An NFL representative said yesterday that the league's owners could field teams of replacement players in 2011 even though the players are locked out and not on strike.
But on the possibility of replacement players, Rooney said, "It really hasn't been anything that's been considered."
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