Looks like union will remain a paper tiger against NFL owners

The NFL owners apparently can’t wait to get DeMaurice Smith back to the negotiating table.

After the players’ selection committee voted to extend Smith’s contract as the NFLPA head, league spokesman Joe Lockhart congratulated Smith (pictured) in a conference call and then talked about the 2011 negotiations.

“I think we had productive negotiations with him in 2011,’’ Lockhart said. “We believe strongly that it has worked for both parties, for owners and players.’’

Can you imagine a Major League Baseball spokesman ever making a comment like that about a deal that Marvin Miller negotiated for the baseball players?

The deal has worked out great for the football owners. The players? Not so much.

As you may remember, the owners wanted givebacks because they didn’t like the deal that Paul Tagliabue negotiated with Gene Upshaw in 2006, just before Tagliabue retired. Upshaw died in 2008.

The owners locked out the players in 2011, convinced they would cave when it came time to start collecting paychecks.

And cave the players did at the start of camp. The 10-year deal the players agreed to is so one-sided that each team gets $244 million in national revenue before they sell a ticket while the salary cap is just $167 million per club.

Smith, though, still has the confidence of the players. Lawyer Cyrus Mehri wanted to challenge Smith, but the players changed the rules so a 14-0 vote by the selection committee would give Smith an extension. And the committee voted 14-0. NFLPA president Eric Winston insisted this new format was the players’ idea, not a power move by Smith.

I tend to give Smith a pass for 2011 because he was playing a bad hand and hadn’t been in the job that long. The players, who have short careers, are reluctant to miss paychecks. When the players struck in 1987, it lasted only three weeks because the owners put on replacement games and so many players – including future Hall of Famers — crossed the picket line.

So Smith took the best deal he could get at the start of training camp. Still, Smith strongly defended the bad 2011 deal in an appearance on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” on HBO.

“No deal is perfect,’’ Smith said. “Am I happy about this deal and how this deal worked out? Absolutely.’’

When Gumbel asked what part of the deal he was most proud of, Smith said: “All of it.’’

That is music to the owners’ ears. Lockhart even suggested they started negotiating an extension right now, even though the current deal runs to 2021.

Smith noted that the owners contributed more than $300 million to former player pensions. He added the amount of the players’ workload decreased and the health and safety of the players increased.

He’s right about the league agreeing to shorten the offseason, ending two-a-days in training camp and limiting the number of padded practices. But the owners don’t care about that – even though the coaches gripe. They just care about the money.

And $300 million is chump change for the owners.

Meanwhile, the value of franchises have skyrocketed — and the players get no cut of that when a team is sold.

Smith even defended agreeing to the 10-year deal without an opt-out, saying the salary cap has grown at a rate it’s never grown before.

Smith said that critics of the deal don’t understand the economics of the game. But what we do understand is that the players got less and the owners got more in the last deal.

Smith has also been criticized for not putting checks on commissioner Roger Goodell’s power to discipline players.

But the owners should be more concerned about Goodell’s reckless use of that power than the players because he is hurting the league’s image by penalizing players like Tom Brady without proof of misconduct.

When only a few players wind up in Goodell’s crosshairs each year, it is difficult to ask all the players to go to the mat on that issue.

Smith said Goodell lied to him when he said the players would get input on the new personal conduct policy. The NFL said the players had no interest in developing a tough and enhanced personal conduct policy.

Gumbel said Smith called that BS and added they lie like we breathe.

So now the table has been set for the next confrontation.  Although Smith has predicted there will be a work stoppage – the owners won’t lock them out this time, so the players would have to strike if there is a work stoppage – but can Smith convince them to save up their money now so they can withstand giving up regular-season paychecks?

I think Smith should start by having the players skip all the voluntary offseason workouts starting next year. The offseason would then consist of a three-day mandatory minicamp, which used to be the offseason format.

If the players did that, it would send a message they are serious and willing to sacrifice to fight for a better deal.

Another idea would be to just strike the preseason because many owners charge regular- season prices for those games but the players don’t get regular-season paychecks for playing in them.

Another idea would be to strike Dec. 1 so the players have collected three quarters of their paychecks, but would good teams be willing to give up the playoffs and a serious shot at the Super Bowl?

Smith has a lot of challenges, so we’ll have to give him a chance to show he can do better than he did in 2011.

The NFL is making so much money that it can give Smith a few crumbs so he can sell the idea the players got some improvements. But the owners are in no mood to make major concessions.

And Smith’s defense of the 2011 deal raises many questions about whether he can get the players a bigger share of the pie the next time around.

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