Players: deal wasn't close, 18 game season dead

A deal between the NFL and players wasn't ever close, a spokesman for the NFLPA said Monday in a conference call intended to respond to days of league comments that the players left a good agreement on the table and walked away while a deal was within reach.

"The perception is that we were really really close. The reality is we really really weren’t," said George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFLPA, which is now officially a "trade association" and not a union.

Drew Brees said the owners' final proposal still wanted $1.66 billion back from the players over four years (about $415 million per year). The league has said they dropped their request to $325 million per year. It's difficult to compare the claims, since they each can use different baselines to present their numbers. (Counting salary cap only? Cap and benefits? Comparing future amounts to what was actually spent recently? Future caps to recent caps? What the cap would have been had the owners not opted out? Does it count benefits to retired players? etc.)

The bottom line from the players perspective was that they weren't going to do a deal without seeing more of the league's financial documents and that they felt the owners made a big proposal on the final day of talks simply to win the media battle that followed. (Owners and executives, including Eagles president Joe Banner, have hammered the players in recent days for walking away from talks while the league was giving ground).

In other significant news in a conference call today, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said the 18-game schedule is dead.

"Eighteen games is not going to happen," Mawae said. "We cannot justify it for the safety and health of our players."

He said it was not part of any NFLPA proposal and "it never will be."

There are no negotiations planned between now and April 6, when a federal judge in St. Paul will hear the union's request for an injunction against the lockout, Atallah said. The case is now before judge Susan Richard Nelson, not David Doty, who has a player-friendly reputation, but Brees played down that factor.

"To us that's not an issue. That was something that the owners seemed to be concerned about and focused on," Brees said. "For us it's about the facts and about the law and we believe those are on our side, so we’re not concerned about that."

Atallah had no comment on reports that top rookies may boycott April's draft.

Brees, Mawae and Colts center Jeff Saturday painted the owners' final offer -- which included a 16-game season, $325 million in annual give backs from the players and reduced offseason work -- as an attempt to win in the media, and not a serious offer, since it arrived on the final day of talks.

They said it was too complex to vet given the time left before last Friday's deadline.

"We knew that coming to us Friday a couple hours before the deadline with a very unrealistic and unreasonable proposal was basically so they could go to the media right after it got turned down, or right after we started asking a lot of questions to them that they couldn’t answer," Brees said.

Pressed on why players didn't extend the talks, with owners making concessions, Brees returned to the issue of financial transparency. "With what they were trying to demand back from us, we needed proof."

While the negotiations have ended and the April 6 hearing date appears to be the next day of real action in the labor dispute, it's clear that the media fight will continue.