NFL Network host Rich Eisen sat down Colts Center and NFL Players Association Executive Committee member Jeff Saturday for a 1-on-1 interview on the state of the CBA negotiations. Saturday is serving a guest analyst on NFL Total Access Monday, March 28 – Wednesday, March 30.
The following is a transcription of the interview in its entirety. Part I aired tonight on NFL Total Access at 7:00 PM ET. Part II of the interview will be on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access Tuesday, March 29 at 7:00 PM ET.
Excerpts from the interview can also be viewed by visiting the following links on NFL.com:
NFL Total Access airs Monday-Friday at 7:00 PM ET with re-airs at 11:00 PM ET.
Part I – Eisen 1-on-1 interview with Jeff Saturday on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access:
Rich Eisen: Once again, we are thrilled to have in our studio over the next three days a 12-year veteran in the National Football League, five-time Pro Bowl center of the Indianapolis Colts, Jeff Saturday. But for the purposes of this segment, you are a member of the Executive Committee of the NFL’s Players’ Association, so we’re going to dive right into all of the labor strife that’s going on the NFL right now, which you are intimately involved. Let’s start with the story of the day that the players have decided to have a draft event during the week of the draft but not up against the Thursday and Friday televised events of the NFL Draft. What are your thoughts on that Jeff?
Jeff Saturday: “I think it’s a good idea. I think obviously it shows just a sense of solidarity between rookies who are coming into our game, getting to know people in our association, other players as well, and kind of showing or letting that support, knowing that we’re in a locked out situation. I think it was smart they didn’t compete necessarily for the actual draft time. I just think you kind of get into the point where it affects fans, and I don’t think anybody wants to do that. You leave it up to the player, let them make the decision on where they want to be on draft day, however they want to do that. I think it lends itself to being the best for everybody.”
Eisen: What about the notion, though, that players who do show up at the draft, shake the Commissioner’s hand, take part in the Radio City festivities, might have some sort of repercussions with veterans in locker rooms once the league opens up for business again. Tedy Bruschi was very vocal about that, obviously a long-standing veteran of the NFL, essentially said I wouldn’t want to be one of those players showing up into a locker room. Do you think there’s going to be a problem?
Saturday: “Well I think each team will be different. It’s a tough situation though for a young guy. I think, from my perspective, I’m looking here is a 20, 21, 22 year-old young man who this has been his dream his whole life. I think we all agree we’re going to play football again at some point, and so to be that strong as a player, when the guy shows up on my team and he’s been drafted and he becomes part of the Indianapolis Colts, I’m going to respect him for what he does, and that’s what he does on the field and how he lives his life as man. So that one isolated incident I don’t think will make or break what a rookie’s going to look like to the veterans.”
Eisen: But would you advocate to other veterans, ‘Hey back off the kid.’ Would you advocate that, or would you just say essentially every locker room’s their own and even though a kid wants to take part in a draft festivity that they’ve been dreaming about and have seen play out year after year after year? Would you advocate not holding that against a rookie?
Saturday: “Yeah, as a whole I don’t think there’s a lot of veterans who would hold that against that kid. First of all, it’s such a select few of men, maybe 25 guys at the very most. You’re talking about the upper-echelon even of the draft, and so when they come into teams, these guys are usually going to be players who are going to be playing for you fairly quickly. You’re going to get to know them and know who they are. I think it’s a tough decision for them to make, whether do you go up and shake the Commissioner’s hand being locked out, or do you skip it? And I think there’s a lot of pressure that will come from their agents, from their families and from a lot of different areas. So I don’t feel like it will be an issue that veterans will necessarily go after those guys or give them any kind of hard time. Your rookie is tough no matter what; you’re going to catch your share of flack. So I don’t think that will necessarily be the one issue they catch it about.”
Eisen: Let’s get to the breakdown in negotiations here Jeff. So many fans disappointed, so many people who depend on the business of the NFL equally as disappointed. I don’t want to get into the numbers and all of this stuff that makes your head spin. We don’t have a whiteboard, we don’t have a forensic accountant on-hand to look at this sort of stuff. And ‘true ups,’ which sounds like a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger movie; it’s confusing. But what isn’t confusing is the letter that we see the Commissioner send the players, the players’ response and then the response from the league, and the players’ response to the league’s response to the players, that we have seen some sort of in the ether numbers on one side, numbers on another side that sounds like something could be negotiated. That there does seem to be a lot of the response, including the players’ response to the league, was in response to what the league did and did not offer. That sounded like something could be negotiated. Why did the players hit the decertification button when they did?
Saturday: “I’ll tell you, it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I was in the room for the 15 days we negotiated, I’ve been a part of many negotiations that were before that in the two years that led up to it. It was a very difficult decision, but I think from each of us sitting in that room, we realized we were in a time-sensitive issue. And from the players’ perspective, we know the best thing that can happen for football is for us to play. And so had we waited and continued to extend the thing out, whatever the owners decided if we couldn’t get a deal, whenever they decided to place a lockout on, and all the key ingredients were there. From the hiring of Bob Batterman, all the way from the way they had structured everything, we always felt like their intention was to lock us out. And so as we got down to that point, the week before on the Thursday that we shut it down to the following Friday, nothing really changed. There was nothing that really grew, minus some small details; But the reality was we had worked up to that, and so to decertify we felt like as players to break apart our union was by far our best capability to get back on the field. Because now you’re fighting the owners in a litigation battle; it has nothing to do with the union and an employer that they can keep you locked out. We felt like, ‘Hey listen, we don’t have to be a union, we can fight it as individuals, we can break this thing apart and it will allow us to keep football going. Because there’s nothing now causing the owners to keep the lockout; their fighting of it is to say that we are still union, which we’re not.’ So that was really our decision was to get our players back on the field as fast as possible.”
Eisen: And we’re going to get into what the players’ end game is through litigation later on in our conversation here. But one thing listening to your response there, and I think if you asked a fan who’s involved in a negotiation with his or her boss, would you sue your boss if you knew you didn’t have a fear of losing your job, regardless of how the litigation turned out, they’d say ‘You know, I might take a crack at suiting my boss,’ if that was the situation. But that said, why not another three days, four days, another week? Because when you do see – again you can go back and forth as to what the owners offer, what the players accepted, or what the owners accepted, back and forth – there did seem to be enough in there, and again if it was predicated on numbers that you refused to accept that’s one thing, there did seem to be enough in there that was a basis for, ‘Ok, this is what we now think should be the case in a CBA,’ playing off what the owners gave you from what you say last-minute, but there still was something there. Why not another three days, why not another four days, why not another week?
Saturday: “Again it went back, listen, it took two years to get there. If you can’t get a deal done in two years, what’s another three days going to mean? And that’s why I’m telling you when you got down to the brass tax of the deal, nothing had changed from the two years ago to where we were that afternoon. And when you looked at the numbers and you looked at all of the things that we’re going to have to happen for there to be an agreed upon contract, there wasn’t enough in there that I could go back to the men in my locker room and say, ‘Hey listen, I support this, I’m behind it, or we’re even close.’ I had made mention the week before, we weren’t close then. And so you go through an entire week again where you really don’t have anything exchanged for an entire three or four days, and then at the 11th hour you get this paper with 20 points, and four sub-points per 20 points, we just felt like it’s more stalling. And so the best thing for the players to do was say, ‘Hey listen, we’re decertified, we’re no longer a union, we’ll have a court date in April so at the latest we know we’ll be playing football again.’ If the courts agree with us, which we feel like they would, football will be played. Now it will be played under whatever system they want it to be played under, but we’re willing to take that chance just to play. I didn’t feel like as a player our fans would put up with a lockout where we’re missing games. I didn’t think our players would put up with it, and I didn’t think our owners could tolerate it. As I sat in all of those meetings, as you hear everybody’s conversation, you realized what we were really going to miss out on, and that’s our fans. Those are everybody who pays our check, and to push this out where they don’t get football, or they don’t get preseason games, or they’re worried about seeing the actual games, I didn’t feel like was a good bet for us. And so timing, it really had to happen there.”
Eisen: Well, let’s get into the state of distrust as well and where it came from. What do you think the owners were delaying? If you spoke another week, what do you think the owners’ game-plan was to delay? Where was that taking them in granting another week extension to talk about?
Saturday: “I think through our discussions, and we didn’t have very much owner-to-player discussion. In the entire 15 days or however many days, there were probably a few hours of actual owner-to-player exchanges. And so we felt like from the owners’ standpoint, they were just continuing to push us out so as the date gets further out and gets closer to the season. Right now for players, there really wasn’t these expectations of being paid or missing games or having to answer questions about missing games. And so we felt like the best time for our game to take a hit was then. And so as we talked about it, we understood, ‘Listen, nothing’s moving forward.’ We never felt like they deterred from their plan of locking us out from when they started – when they hired Batterman, the whole TV case which I won’t bore you with the details – but everything led up to all of us feeling that’s where the distrust came from. And if you hear comments like Mark Murphy from the Packers and he’s talking about we give retired players too much, we don’t give them the incentive to go out and get a job, you can imagine how many times my phone rings when that comment gets laid out. How are you going to sign a deal, tell me what’s going to happen with former players? What’s going to happen with the rookies? What’s going to happen with present-day? All of these things happen and there are all of these fuels that get put out there and get pushed out, and players understood what was at stake. Again I go back to all the time I try to tell fans back at home, because obviously I answer to a lot of those people, is…Indianapolis is my home and we have the Super Bowl coming up; it’s a big deal for our city and for where I live, and I wanted the very best for it and not to play football is unacceptable to me. So whatever we had to do, which we felt like decertification was the only way we could get back to football.”
Eisen: And yet with the level of distrust that you’re talking about, you still shared a beer with the Commissioner the night before certification.
Saturday: “Infamous beer.”
Eisen: Yes, and I want to talk with you about that, as well as a tweet from the Colts owner Jim Irsay calling out the process about wanting to have more discussion, and all the rest of the end-game that the players are trying to see through their litigation. We’re going to put the rest of this conversation on NFL.com, but that’s it for our discussion right here on ‘NFL Total Access’ with Jeff Saturday, who is here for three days. Maybe we’ll continue this conversation on the air over the next two shows.
Part II of Eisen 1-on-1 interview with Saturday (scheduled to air on Tuesday, March 29 edition of NFL Total Access)
Eisen: Alright Jeff, so now with the level of distrust that you’re talking about. You mentioned Bob Batterman, who is an outside counsel for the NFL that many of the players have gone on record as saying you found his presence and hiring troubling because of what he’s done, what he took part in with the NHL or what have you. Even with all of that, the night before what wound up being decertification, as Peter King reported, as Ron Borges reported, you had a brewski with the Commissioner of the National Football League. How did that come about?
Saturday: “We had talked throughout the week, obviously, and I was eating dinner with a group of guys the night before, with a lot of guys from the players’ association, and I just felt like it was important. This was one of the first times that players had been in the room during negotiations, and truth be told, in the meetings [Jeff] Pash does the majority of the speaking, who’s their head attorney. So he does most of the talking, and so I called Roger [Goodell] and just said, ‘Hey, I’m heading back to my hotel and I’d just like to talk to you. I know we’ve got one more day and I just kind of want to lay out what I feel like is really important to the players.’ And the one thing I’ll say about Roger is he’s always receptive to that. He does a good job of hearing it out and having that conversation. And so we sat and talked, and I won’t get into all of the details of the conversation, but we had a very good, heart-to-heart conversation. I expressed to him the importance of some of the facts of what the players wanted and why. I wanted him to feel it from the players and understand that nobody’s leading us to any different area; this is player-led. And I felt very strongly about the men that – your Drew Brees, your Mike Vrabel, your Brian Dawkins, your [Domonique] Foxworth, Brian Waters and Charlie Batch – these are all men that I walk with and wanted to know what was coming from our heart. When we sat down and had that conversation, I laid out very clearly what I felt like we needed to get close to a deal. And he retorted.
Eisen: It was an actual conversation?
Saturday: “It was a good conversation.”
Eisen: Wow, what a radical concept: an actual conversation. Did you call the Commissioner and he accepted and you guys met and had this conversation?
Eisen: So did you feel when you left there, did you feel this had a shot the next day? How did you feel?
Saturday: “I did. I’ll tell you, I tell people all the time, the entire time I was there I was encouraged that something was going to happen. When we made the extension the week before, first it was a 24-hour extension, then it moved on. But I felt like at that point, something significant was going to happen. And obviously to my disappointment – I mean I’m leaving my wife and three kids at home to go do this and stay in D.C. and have these meetings – and like I said before, just nothing really materialized later on in the week. So I was disappointed and I felt like we had the parts to get something done.”
Eisen: But you were the guy who announced that you were decertifying right?
Eisen: You went into the mediation? What was that about? You just walked in and said that’s it? Who did you say this to?
Saturday: “It was a forum, a mediation forum, so it’s kind of interesting. When you walk in, the owners are on one side and players are on the other side and the two mediators sit down at the head of the table. We had talked about it and conferred in our room and had good conversation about it. I was the guy that drew the short straw, I’d guess you’d say. I had to look across, and the truth is as we looked at the deal, we all knew that it was a unanimous ‘no.’ And so I just went in…”
Eisen: Not just a unanimous ‘no,’ it was a unanimous ‘no’ and we’re done talking.
Saturday: “Yeah, absolutely.”
Eisen: I’m sorry I don’t mean to interrupt, there was no one in the room who said maybe we should keep talking?
Saturday: “Not one.”
Eisen: Nobody on the players’ side who said, ‘You know what…’
Saturday: “Because here’s the deal for us Rich: it was two years. I mean this is what I try to explain, think about how many sessions we’ve had. Let’s say it’s been 60 sessions; that’s 60 meetings, and when we were in D.C., we were talking about 10 to 12 hour days. And you have all of this time, and the week of the extension we don’t have any passing back until the final day. This doesn’t even strike you as making any sense. It felt like you’re in Congress and you get this bill with 30 seconds left and everything is tacked on it, and you just push it through.”
Eisen: I’ll be honest, it also sounds like someone wants to keep talking. To put it on your lap like that at the end the way you’re describing.
Saturday: “We definitely didn’t see it that way at all. Especially with the points.”
Eisen: I just want to keep talking, you know what I mean? It’s such a bummer the fact that one side and the other side seem to want to talk to one another, but because now this is in the hands of the lawyers, you’ve got to remain in your battle stations because it could be used against each other in a court of law, and things of that nature.
Saturday: “Let me just clarify: you can still have settlement negotiations. You can’t have collectively bargained negotiations anymore. So you can talk. The issue with that now is one of the owners’ counterpoints or lawsuit issues is that they’re saying that we are still a union.”
Eisen: Well that’s obviously a major sticking point. And whereas you wouldn’t want to talk to the NFL without your class counsel because that would mean you’re still a union.
Saturday: “Correct. You could still have discussions in that; whether you get to anything or not, that’s still feasible to have. And we’re still advisers to the class, so the same gentleman can also come in there with their attorneys. This is what I try to tell: the reality is the attorneys were negotiating for them anyway. I want that to be very clear. This was not Jerry Jones sitting down – I mean he came into the meetings – but as far as the sticking points of the negotiation, that wasn’t the case; it was always Jeff Pash, Bob Batterman, Greg Leavy, whoever it was in that room, and they have a lot of counsel. But in every meeting that we had, whether it be off-season conditioning or whatever, it was always attorneys. So I was always negotiating with an attorney. So for that to be different for them is a bit silly. It just means that our counsel is in the room without us.”
Eisen: Well I understand, but if they do talk to you as a class counsel, then the whole NLRB. It gets peoples’ eyes rolling in the back of their head. That’s where we are because the litigation button has been hit, you know what I mean? That’s where a lot of people are saying of the players if you didn’t hit the litigation button. But you’re saying you had no choice but to. Let’s move on here. The last part of this is where do we go from here? Because the owners and the league have said, and it’s difficult to see how this is not the case, you’re going to have to negotiate something, sometime. It’s going to have to be, whether it’s settlement or negotiating, you’re going to have to get into a room. Even the Reggie White case eventually wound up with a settlement that wound up with the union coming back together as a union. At some point it’s going to have to get to that, but we’re playing this thing out. Give me the scenario, the end-game, for the players. You get an injunction, you have it appealed, you have it held on appeal. Now you’re back, technically, with the NLRB thing. What happens then?
Saturday: “The great thing is we’re playing football. So now with the antitrust lawsuit and all of the things about free agency, the things being brought up in the case, get fought out in court outside of us not being able to play ball. The reality for us was, and I was one of the main [proponents], I’ll play under any system they want to impose if they decide they want to impose a system. As long as we’re playing football. Let’s get back out, because I don’t feel like any system – if they go back to 2010, there’s been all kinds of speculation – but whatever it is, at least we’re on the field. At least our fans are showing up, they’re seeing us do what they pay us to go do, and that’s to play ball, it’s to meet in your offseason. The other part of it was, and this came from a lot of different players, is if you can’t get on the field until August or September, what kind of product are you putting out there? We want to get back as soon as we can so that the normalcy of our game continues. And then whatever happens in the court really becomes kind of the sidebar. Nobody really pays attention to [it]. They played ball in ’89 through ’92 for years and it’s just kind of the backburner case. But the reality is, they were still playing football. I think that from a players’ perspective was what was the most important. We don’t want to be locked out, we want to have guys on the field, we want to be playing for our fans. I think it does everybody the right mindset, everybody’s back on the field, and now, whatever happens in that is kind of separate, if you understand what I’m saying. So it’s not about this collectively bargained agreement anymore that has to be settled on; we can play under what we’re playing now and kind of let that work itself out.”
Eisen: But if it is one year rules for 2010 in 2011, and that would also mean six years to free agency for some players. Do you think some of your fellow members would be cool with that?
Saturday: “I think it’s frustrating already. I know players in my locker room and many men that call me and talk to me, it’s frustrating because they wanted it. But one of the issues, and I know you don’t want to get into it, but one of the issues was cutting down the years of a contract so guys can actually hit free agency. So somebody’s going to have to bear that. For a guy like myself, I can assure you my job stability went way down when I walked into that room. There’s not many of those owners that are going to want to hire me anymore. So there’s a lot of guys who have sacrificed part of their career or part of their future for what’s going to happen, and that’s where those guys fall. As tough as it is on those guys, I’ve assured them when you take it, you have a very good chance of winning and being paid on it, and still hitting free agency later. Now, it may not be exactly what you wanted, but the chances and what we’re laying the groundwork for the future of our players and our game is a much better system.”
Eisen: Wouldn’t we though if it was just a one-year imposition of the 2010 rules, wouldn’t we be back in the same mess next year?
Saturday: “I doubt it. I would think from an ownership standpoint, stability is [key]. The thing that we’ve all talked about from players and from owners, the one thing I think we can all agree on is we all like stability. And so I think this is the 12th round. … So here we are and we know something is going to be decided. I think from a players standpoint, we want certainty, we want to understand this is what we feel like is right, we want the courts to either agree or disagree. And from the owners’ standpoint, I think they’re in the same boat. I think at some point all of this will come together. Like you said, however you want to define it, I’ll say litigation settlement, you can say collectively bargained.”
Eisen: I’m a guy, I want to talk football.
Saturday: “Me too.”
Eisen: Trust me, being the host of NFL Total Lockout is not what I wanted to do. So, I just wanted to get a sense of why we’re here and where we’re going. Ballpark it for me. When do you think this is going to end?
Saturday: “My opinion on this thing is, and obviously my hope, is that we win in April. And if we win in April but the owners say, ’Ok look, we lost the TV case, we lost this case, let’s get a settlement going, let’s get whatever we’ve got to do to get a product back and get something settled.’ Or if they appeal it and it goes, as you said, on appeal, at least in July you get to that point.”
Eisen: So July you think appeals would be exhausted?
Saturday: “When we had outside counsel come in and give us kind of how the courts in Minnesota and how it kind of works out, they projected the latest in that July, maybe early August-type date. So when we’re making our decision, we based our decision on that type of timing. We want football to stay as regular as possible, we don’t want to lose games, we don’t want to push games back; we want to be playing football at the right time. And we want our players to be playing football at the right time. So I would not foresee this going past that point.”
Eisen: Before I let you go and before we end this conversation, you mentioned how there aren’t too many people in the ownership that would be willing to hire Jeff Saturday. Let’s just give you a tweet of a man who currently pays Jeff Saturday or will when this whole thing is over. Jim Irsay on Twitter tweeted out over the weekend ‘It’s called compromise and common sense and no lawyers’ – which by the way was all in caps – ‘and negotiations and collective bargaining and no macho crap! Adult statesmanship.’ That’s what Jim Irsay tweeted out. I’d love to get your reaction to that.
Saturday: “Here’s the thing, I have a ton of respect for Jim. He and I have a very good relationship and we talked throughout this whole process. In fact, I talked to him on the Saturday before the last week and kind of laid everything out to him. And I think he understands where I was and where my mental state was, and the reality is I’m representing 2,000 men and he’s representing himself and 31 other owners. So I get the gamesmanship that everybody plays; it’s the full-court press in the media that everybody’s been at. But the reality is, we made our decision and we’re sticking to it. I think it’ll be decided. In the end of all of this, I hope fans understand why players did it, and that’s to get us on the field. And I think fans will appreciate that and we get back to playing the game we all love.”
Eisen: But in the meantime, it’s all in the hands of the lawyers until you think maybe late July, early August. That’s what you think?
Saturday: “Yeah. I’m hoping before.”
Eisen: We all are. We hope that there’s some sort of discussions behind the scenes, but as we pointed out earlier, we’re even now arguing under the manner of which these discussions can take place so everybody’s protected.
Saturday: “That’s only until April right?”
Eisen: We’ll find out. Jeff, thanks for coming on. Well, listen, you’ll be on for the next two days as well here on ‘NFL Total Access.’ That’s it for the conversation with Jeff Saturday here on the program.