CBA passes, no thanks to Steelers' votes
The NFL Players Association voted Thursday to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement it negotiated last month with owners — but did so without the Steelers' support.
"We voted no," said offensive tackle Willie Colon, one of several recently signed free agents cleared to practice shortly after the agreement was announced.
The CBA allows the NFL to become the first major U.S. professional sports league to use blood testing for human growth hormone. Players eventually would be subject to random testing for HGH, in addition to annual checks — as is the case for all banned substances in the league's drug-testing program — only after the union is confident in the way the testing and appeals process will work.
The aim is to have HGH testing by Week 1 of the regular season, but that is not guaranteed.
"At the time of our discussions, I don't think there was a definite answer (on HGH testing)," said quarterback Charlie Batch, a member of the NFLPA executive committee.
With the majority of the league's 1,900 union members ratifying the 10-year deal, the Steelers seemingly cast only a symbolic no vote to protest their uneasiness with a sometimes-ambiguous conduct policy. In addition, some were uncomfortable having less than two hours to review the CBA package before hitting the practice field. Players did not disclose how they voted, but Batch said it was "a majority vote."
"There was a level of uncertainty because a lot of guys didn't know what they were signing up for," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "We had a short time limit to sign everything, so I feel we were rushed."
"I think we gave in some places we would like to win," said Steelers union rep Ryan Clark, who Wednesday cast doubt whether the union would ratify the agreement. "They (owners) got to keep some of the things they wanted to keep. They got to get more money back (53 percent to 47 percent revenue split), but that's the tug of war you have with negotiations."
Steelers president Art Rooney II said both sides had to make compromises.
"There were things that we would've liked to do but didn't, and I am sure it is the same with the players," Rooney said. "There is give-and-take in these things, and the bottom line is that I think it is a fair deal that will be great for the game and great for the league for the next decade."
Batch considered it a partial victory for the NFLPA that it convinced owners that player representatives should be consulted before a player is suspended or fined more than $50,000. Also, the players will be able to argue on appeal that a fine is excessive if it exceeds 25 percent of one week's pay for a first offense or 50 percent of a week's pay for a second offense.
"Our team had a certain point of view about some of these things, particularly the fines," Rooney said.
The Steelers were among the most heavily fined teams in the league last season -- including linebacker James Harrison's league-high four fines.
"We can't worry about what happened last year," Batch said. "The appeal process is what we always asked for, not sole jurisdiction from the commissioner. I think right now we'll have a panel to air the appeals, which I think will satisfy a lot of guys.
"It's something some guys feel stronger about than others. It's something, when you look at it, that's better than what we had yesterday."
The CBA also enables the league's off-field conduct policy to remain unchanged and in the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Steelers' afternoon practice began 90 minutes later than scheduled, largely because of the CBA vote.
As several free agents — including Colon, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and cornerback William Gay — paced on an adjoining field with their helmets and shoulders pads in hand shortly before 5 p.m., head coach Mike Tomlin screamed, "Suit 'em up."
"There were guys on the side waiting for the call," Batch said. "When you look at it, it's something we'll talk about how it transpired. At the end of the day, everyone decided to get back on the field to play ball."