Questions About the Pending NFL Lockout? Bring Them — and Other Football Questions — to NFL Players' Union Executive George Atallah


George Atallah is the assistant executive director of external affairs for the N.F.L. Players Association, which means that he and his boss, DeMaurice Smith, are the top representatives for perhaps the most prominent labor union in history: NFL players.

If you care even a little bit about the NFL — and this week, many people do — you know that there’s a potential lockout looming on March 4, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the players expires.

There are many issues behind the standoff between league and union, most of them economic (revenue share, guaranteed payments, etc.) but also psychic — i.e., this standoff has more the feel of a classic labor war than the typical pro-sport standoff, in part because of the tone with which Smith and Atallah have made their case to the public. Here, for instance, is Atallah writing at

According to the NFL and team owners, however, the “economic model in the NFL doesn’t work.” What’s more, they have prepared for and are openly threatening a lockout if it’s not “fixed.” What is their proposal to fix it? They’ve asked the players for more than a $1 billion reduction in the players’ portion of revenues in the first year alone of a future CBA. By the way, in a league with no guaranteed contracts, revealed dangers of the game and injury concerns at their peak, they want players to play two extra regular-season games.

The players maintain that one fundamental question needs to be answered in earnest if there is to be an agreement before a lockout: Why is the current deal so bad? If owners had decided to make this a direct business transaction between partners, the players are confident a deal would’ve been struck a long time ago. Business partners get together, sign confidentiality agreements, exchange financials and negotiate. Our repeated requests for detailed financial information that would help us answer the quintessential question have been denied.

As a result, players and fans have to go by what we do know. I recently sent a letter to all sports editors to set the record straight on the economics and revenue breakdown between players and owners because the phrase most frequently seen is that “players get 60 percent of revenues.” This is not an accurate depiction. Players receive approximately 50 percent of all revenues in the NFL. Or, players receive approximately 60 percent of total revenue in the NFL after the owners take a number of expense credits that add up to more than $1 billion a year.

So here’s your chance to ask questions directly to Atallah. Please leave them in the comments section below. He did a Q&A on this blog last year as well, but I’m guessing that with a potential lockout around the corner, your questions will be of a different intensity. As always, we’ll post his answers in short course. We are trying to line up someone prominent from the league side to take a Q&A next week, so we’ll post that as well if it works out.

VB in NV

Will the players ask for extended health benefits?


It's my understanding that the replacement players in '87 worked out well for the owners because in a face-masked league, the fans didn't care who's playing as long as the games are played. With the explosion and popularity of today's 24-hour sports news, twitter and fantasy football, more players have become more recognizable (though still a significantly smaller percentage than NBA and MLB). Nevertheless, do you think this gives players some leverage that was demonstrated to be non-existent after 1987?


There has been a lot of talk about a salary structuring for rookies. Why would the NFL or the NFLPA even hesitate on limiting the amount of money rookies can make? It seems beneficial to both sides (more money for proven players and no risk of getting stuck with a JaMarcus Russell). Am I missing a representative for future players?


How about really answering my question from last time?
I'm not aware of any great examples of sportsmanship.

From last time:

I remember numerous charitable efforts from pro sports leagues and player's unions that are well publicized on TV. I can think of physical fitness, education (e.g. reading), and welfare (e.g. food donations) as areas where most of these efforts concentrate. And the United Way is in many of these areas.

I would like to see more efforts go into promoting sportsmanship. Any ideas on what small steps could be taken? - Mike

Across the board NFL players are a great example of sportsmanship. There is always more we can do and I will look into those organizations to promote it further.

Andrew Ward

The owners seem to be fine with a lockout next season if they don't get their conditions. If this is true, what leverage (if any) do the players have to force a collective bargaining agreement? What are the owner's incentives?

Michael Radosevich

Have the players made plans to start "a league of their own"? No one pays $150 per game to see Jerry Joan or Danny Snide. No one watches TV to see those two men.

The players hold the power. Why not combine with the cities to field teams, using city-owned vacant stadiums like RFK in Washington and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville? Who owns the Rose Bowl? I'm sure you could pack 100,000 fans in there every week. Why not two teams or even four teams in LA the first year? For TV, use Univision or some other major network outside the current TV oligopoly.

If the players haven't made plans or are too weak to break free of the system of serfdom they currently have, it's their own fault. This should be a golden opportunity for the players to control their fate.


1) Do you agree with the premise that the non-guaranteed contracts and hard salary cap strongly contribute to making the NFL the most competitively balanced professional sports league?

2) If so, what is your philosophy in representing the players while maintaining the parity that makes the NFL so popular? Would you focus more on signing bonuses and less on game checks or vice versa? Less guaranteed money to the top ten draft picks and more guaranteed money to veterans? What do you seek for players whose average career is three years? Two year guaranteed contracts and the remainder non-guaranteed?


Since the Packers are publicly owned, and their finances a matter of public record, has the NFLPA been able to make use of that data to counter any questionable accounting practices by the League/Ownership?


What are your thoughts on non-guaranteed contracts? Three year average careers? Competitive balance in the league? Franchise tag? Large guaranteed contracts to the top ten draft picks?

Brian Frederick

How can fans get involved to ensure we save next season?


It's pretty clear that the owners are out of line. What can we do as fans to support the players?


If there is no season next year, will there still be a 2012 NFL draft? Now will the order be determined? Will it be the same as this years?

M. Steve

Given how vehement the players seem to be about no 18-game seasons, and how indifferent the fans are, do you think it's possible that Goodell and the owners are playing it up in order to make it a "major concession" later down the line, so it appears they are operating in good faith? From what I've heard, preseason games are serious revenue generators for teams, because they get to control the local broadcast rights, force season-ticket holders to but tickets at face value, and get more in concessions. Combine this with all the talk of concussions, pre-concussive hits, "holes in the brain", and the failure to take care of retirees, I can't imagine the NFL actually thinks an 18-game season would be anything but a money loser and PR disaster.


one measure of the worsening stratification in our country is the growing disparity between ceo pay and average worker pay, which presently is @ 350-to-1 (in the 60s it was @ 40-to-1)- i would love to see an owner-to-average-NFL salary ratio to further unmask this myth about owner 'fixing'- also, does your $1billion in 'expense credits' the owners take count all of the fan/taxpayer subsidies for stadiums that the owners also pocket?


Why doesn't a lockout invalidate player contracts, since they aren't getting paid?

Will a significant number of players drafted late, say round 5 and later, and rookie free agents, prefer a modest salary from the UFL over the unknown nature of the NFL in 2011?

Roger G

So as I understand it, owners claim that the current deal does not give them an incentive to develop revenue streams.

I imagine a solution to the core revenue-sharing issue in the current CBA negotiations where players continue to receive their current percentage of total revenue up to a cap level which is above their current pay level. The cap could represent a fixed-dollar maximum for their share of revenue, or after the cap they could continue getting a smaller percentage of total revenue.

Such an agreement could give ownership the incentive that they claim they need, while still giving a pay raise to players.

If ownership can find ways to increase TR without imposing unreasonable burdens on players, perhaps a deal acceptable to both sides could be reached.

I think there is a lot that could be done to increase TR through creative solutions.

Could something like this work, at least for the upcoming season?


David Chowes, New York City


It's the viability of the game the way it has been played for many years. American football is probably the most dangerous team sport played in this country. It probably makes boxing look like swimming in a kiddie pool.

It has been documented that all the head injuries leads to a significant incidence of dementia.

This must be dealt with! The reasons players don't talk much about it is: where else can they obtain such great compensation? And, usually if the dementia arrives it's many years later.

Just like teens who drive irresponsibly -- when you're young
their is the delusion that your immortal.

Craig A.

If a rookie wage scale is implemented in the new CBA as many expect, will it go into effect for the 2012 or 2013 draft? Is there a preexisting grandfather clause for such an event?

Craig A.

Do rookie wage scales in general (regardless of sport) violate antitrust laws and affect fair market negotiations?

chris markl

What does the players union think about a set pay schedule for rookies like the NBA?

(How I understand it, the union represents current employees. By cutting rookie salaries by significant margins, this would obviously free up money for current players. Or allow current players salaries to remain stable while owners will obtain additional funds. By my account, the players union doesn't fully understand who they represent. They should be willing to throw future employees under the bus as these individuals aren't currently represented or paying dues. The players union could make a slippery slope argument, but this is non-sensical. I firmly believe that by greatly reducing rookie salaries and applying a sliding scale like the NBA, both owners and players would be happy with neither parties being hurt. Yes future rookies would be hurt, but they are not involved in this negotiation process.)