The NFL’s grievance seeks “an order for the union to cease and desist from such improper conduct as well as other remedies that the arbitrator may deem appropriate,” the league told team owners who serve on its management council’s executive committee, which is in charge of labor negotiations with the union, in a memo.
“Beginning this past summer and continuing throughout Training Camp, NFL Players Association leadership, including President JC Tretter, have become increasingly vocal in advising NFL Players dissatisfied with their current contracts to consider feigning or exaggerating injuries to withhold service as a way to increase their leverage in contract negotiations,” the NFL wrote in the memo, a copy of which The Washington Post obtained.
The NFLPA said in a statement: “Their grievance is ridiculous and without merit.”
The NFL’s memo to the owners on the labor committee said the league had “become aware of a formal Zoom hosted by the NFLPA with certain NFL Running Backs in which this advice was conveyed.” The NFL believes Lloyd Howell, the NFLPA’s newly elected executive director, and Tretter, the former center for the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns who continues to serve as the union president after announcing his retirement as a player in August, participated in that videoconference, the person familiar with the matter said.
The NFL’s memo said the NFLPA’s “conduct is a clear violation of the union’s agreement to use ‘best efforts to faithfully carry out the terms and conditions of the [CBA]’ and ‘to see that the terms and conditions of all NFL Player Contracts are carried out in full by players.’”
The memo also said: “The union’s conduct is also reckless as any player that chooses to follow this advice and improperly withhold services under his player contract will be subject to discipline and financial liability under the CBA, Club rules, and/or the player’s contract.”
The grievance comes amid unrest by many NFL running backs over their salaries, at a time when many teams consider the position devalued in a pass-first league.
Two prominent running backs, the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, had extended contract disputes with their teams this year after the teams placed franchise-player tags on them during the offseason. Barkley and Jacobs refused to sign their one-year franchise-player deals that called for each to earn a salary of just less than $10.1 million for this season.
Barkley agreed to a revised one-year contract with the Giants in late July that reportedly included a potential $900,000 in incentives, pushing his prospective pay for this season to $11 million. Jacobs agreed in late August to a revised one-year deal with the Raiders, reportedly worth as much as $12 million.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor is on the physically unable to perform list and must miss at least the Colts’ first four games of the season. Taylor, a former NFL rushing champion, underwent offseason ankle surgery and spent all of training camp and the preseason on the camp version of the PUP list. He temporarily left the team twice during training camp, reportedly once for treatment on his ankle and another time when he was excused for a personal matter. He has not practiced with the Colts since the team placed him on the injured reserve list in December.
Taylor, unhappy with his contract, requested a trade at the outset of training camp. The Colts initially said there would be no such deal but later relented and allowed Taylor and his representatives to pursue a trade. There has been no deal to this point, but talks with other teams could resume before the NFL’s Oct. 31 trade deadline. Taylor is in the final season of a four-year rookie contract that pays him $4.3 million this season.
Tretter said on a podcast with former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker in July that players “need to try to create as much leverage as you possibly can.”
According to Pro Football Talk, Tretter said on that podcast: “I think we’ve seen issues — now, I don’t think anybody would say they were fake injuries, but we’ve seen players who didn’t want to be where they currently are, have injuries that made them unable to practice and play, but you’re not able to get fined, and you’re not able to be punished for not reporting. So there are issues like that. I don’t think I’m allowed to ever recommend that, at least publicly, but I think each player needs to find a way to build up leverage to try to get a fair deal.”
Pro Football Talk reported in July that running backs participated in a Zoom meeting to discuss their concerns over their salary issues. Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb confirmed to reporters at the time that he participated.
No arbitrator has been assigned yet to resolve the NFL’s grievance, the person with knowledge of the situation said. A selection will be made from among pool of arbitrators who handle such non-injury grievances.
The CBA says that the NFL and NFLPA “will use their best efforts to see that the terms and conditions of all NFL Player Contracts are carried out in full by players.”
The NFLPA has an active grievance against the NFL accusing teams and the league of colluding improperly to prevent teams from offering fully guaranteed contracts to players. The union filed that grievance during DeMaurice Smith’s tenure as its executive director. Player representatives voted in late June to elect Howell, the former chief financial officer of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, as Smith’s successor.