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Tom Pelissero, @TomPelissero, USA TODAY Sports

As a fight over workers' compensation law continues in Louisiana, the NFL Players Association appears poised to strike back against the league's plans to expand the postseason.

"The players have not seen a press release from the NFL indicating that they were going to take up the issue of better workers' compensation benefits or increased injury protection benefits in light of their desire for extra playoff games," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

"A credible commitment to player health and safety has to include more than a group of owners voting to recommend playing more games."

Owners could approve a 14-team playoff as soon as today at the NFL's spring meetings in Atlanta. But the league has had no talks with NFLPA leadership or presented any proposal on the topic, two people with knowledge of the union's thinking told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment publicly.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told news reporters in Atlanta he doesn't think the NFL needs approval from players to add two teams to the field.

But the union says an expanded playoff field would qualify as a change in working conditions and thus could block the plan in response to the workers' comp bill that is making its way through the Louisiana legislature, the people said.

"Under the CBA, all changes in player working conditions, such as expanding the number of games played, requires negotiation with the players," Smith told USA TODAY Sports.

"Player leadership has consistently made it clear that we do not consider any issue, let alone issues that affect player health and safety, in a vacuum. We have seen the NFL owners and the league support rollbacks in injury care benefits and loss-wage benefits in Louisiana, California and Arizona.

"Their inability to address and resolve these issues among various clubs means that players suffer disparate treatment in a league that disciplines to maintain uniformity. Most recently, the Saints introduced a bill aimed at only professional athletes to reduce players' workers' compensation benefits."

Asked about the union's stance, Jones said, "We have a great relationship with the union, and so we would certainly go step and step when we can. ... But I don't know whether (union approval is) a necessary step or not."

In an e-mail to agents Friday, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, Smith said the Louisiana bill would "substantially reduce workers' compensation benefits" for players injured in the offseason and asked agents to "advise your players of the potential consequences of the (New Orleans) Saints' efforts should they sign with the Saints," who are backing the bill, known as HB 1069.

Calling that warning inappropriate and unprofessional, a lawyer representing the Saints told USA TODAY Sports on Friday the bill merely reinforced past appeals court rulings and was being sought "to stop the needless litigation and annual lobbying efforts of the NFLPA to circumvent the established case law." An NFL spokesman Friday deferred comment to the Saints.

Ryan Clark -- a Washington Redskins veteran safety who is a member of the NFLPA's executive committee -- tweeted Monday that owners "should explain to players why they want to reduce our workers' compensation benefits, especially in Louisiana. ... I don't know how they can ask players to consider expanding the playoffs while they attack our injury benefits."

The bill by Rep. Chris Broadwater would calculate workers' comp benefits for injured athletes based on earnings at the time of the injury rather than future earnings. It passed the Louisiana House last week and could come up in Senate committee in the coming days, leading to Saints quarterback Drew Brees and others on the union side ramping up efforts to squash it.

Another outstanding issue is a comprehensive drug policy, including testing for human growth hormone, that has been on hold since the collective bargaining agreement was finalized in August 2011.

The sticking point is Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority over appeals related to discipline for violations other than failed drug tests.

Contributing: Jim Corbett in Atlanta


May 20, 2014




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