His job's not done, but DeMaurice Smith has passed the test so far
Time to assess how De Smith, the first-time union boss, the first-time labor negotiator, the first-time football executive, did in the 28 months he spent getting the players a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
On Monday, I asked two agents I respect -- smart guys, able to tone down the rhetoric and see things impartially -- how they think Smith did. One said he thought Smith got taken to the cleaners, didn't push the NFL hard enough on retired players and should have pushed for the cap to be higher than $120.4 million in 2011. The other said, simply, "He beat the spread.'' In other words, after the union lost its leverage in court, he did better for his players -- while missing no regular-season games -- than this agent believed he would.
Three weeks after Smith took the job in March 2009, I interviewed him for three hours at a Washington restaurant. I remember five points about the interview clearly.
There were other issues, and, of course, other things surfaced in the labor deal. But let's look at those five points and see where the players are today versus the previous CBA.
Stadium workers didn't miss a game, though there's no unionized representation for them, and no indication that the guy who works in the FedEx Field parking lot will make any more money. Bottom line: This is the first time in years life-changing money has been invested to help the lives of retired players; stadium workers won't miss any money. Smith did what he said he'd do.
Smith did get a signed deal with teams forced to spend 99 percent of the salary cap 45 days before the start of the regular-season. He got a good deal without missing any games.
I believe Smith knew all along he absolutely did not want to take this conflict into the season. He knew his players wouldn't be set up for missing potential millions, so he had to do everything he could to get the best deal he could, knowing deep down he would miss games only as an absolute last resort.
One more thing. The late fight over the opt-out provision shows me the players on the union's Executive Board -- and many players leaguewide -- do not trust the owners. At all. The show of camaraderie between the owners and league notwithstanding, I worry about the relationship between the two sides going south in a hurry. I know Smith has the substance abuse and discipline policies to worry about going forward, but I view part of his job, a big part, to be sure lines of communication stay open. And not bitter.
I'm going to give Smith an A-minus for the job he did ... with the clear understanding that the job's not done. But so far, he's delivered what he promised, and more.