Three years after running unopposed, DeMaurice Smith will have eight challengers for his executive director's position with the players' union in the March 15 election.
Smith is concluding his second three-year term and will be opposed by several former NFL players: Sean Gilbert, Jason Belser, Robert Griffith and John Stufflebeem, who only appeared in preseason games and is a former U.S. Navy admiral.
Also on the ballot will be attorneys Arthur McAfee, Andrew Smith and Jim Acho, and player representative Rob London.
Each candidate required the endorsement of three NFLPA player reps. The election by those reps will take place at the union's annual meetings in Hawaii.
Smith defeated Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong and David Cornwell in 2009.
Several of this year's candidates have criticized Smith's union leadership, often citing what they term as a labor agreement reached in 2011 that is heavily weighted in favor of the owners. Smith doesn't flinch from the criticism.
''The beauty of that, I mean the honest beauty of that, is they don't sit in judgment of De Smith,'' Smith said Thursday night. ''They're going to sit there and be in judgment of our player leaders. I've tried a lot of cases in my lifetime. That's the toughest 100-person jury I've ever faced in my life and I like it that way.''
Gilbert has been campaigning for the job for more than a year. He cites a ''$10 billion problem from the 2011 CBA,'' claiming Smith's ''lack of institutional football knowledge'' led to a settlement that isn't fair to the players.
Acho was approached early this year by several retired players asking him to run. He says the ex-players believe the current NFLPA administration has ''disregarded them'' and that several alumni groups are backing him.
Acho is focused on health care in his platform.
''I've been a retired players representative and am after improved disability and medical benefits for them,'' he said. ''I used to fight with (former NFLPA executive director) Gene Upshaw tooth and nail.
''It still isn't where it needs to be, when I took a closer look at it. Long-term health care for current players is not where it is supposed to be, either.''
London says because he has represented nearly four dozen players over the last decade, he has the right perspective for the job.
''In terms of being able to have a pulse where the player stands or is thinking or what he has been communicating, I think I am at the forefront of this group of individuals, outside of De,'' London said. ''I'm able to understand the nuances of the CBA and what the players want because they have been my clients.''
Andrew Smith's platform includes references to the NFL concealing ''the true revenue and profitability of the league.
''We will work vigorously to identify and include every avenue of revenue earned from the game of football and require distribution of this income among the players,'' he said, noting that several major revenue streams were excluded from the 2011 labor agreement.
McAfee spent 17 years as an NFLPA staff counsel, serving as an adviser to Upshaw. McAfee left the union in 2012.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story.
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