New NFL Players Association executive director Lloyd Howell has his first major issue to navigate with the NFL, following the league’s filing of a grievance against the players union alleging that running backs were advised to breach their contracts as a negotiation tactic.
The NFL’s grievance, which was filed last Tuesday and will be reviewed by an arbitrator, accuses the NFLPA of advising running backs to fake injuries to avoid practicing while negotiating toward new contracts, according to two league sources briefed on the matter who are not authorized to speak publicly on the grievance. The Washington Post first reported news of the grievance. Such a move would be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
Last week, members of the NFL’s Management Council Executive Committee received a memo from the league that informed them of the grievance.
The memo, of which The Athletic obtained a copy, reads:
“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. We have become aware of a formal Zoom hosted by the NFLPA with certain NFL Running Backs in which this advice was conveyed.
“This 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 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.
“As a result, we will be filing a grievance seeking 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 NFLPA formally filed its response to the arbitrator Monday, and in it, the union denied the claims made by the league, according to one of the two league sources. It’s unclear how long the review process will take to complete.
Howell succeeded DeMaurice Smith as executive director of the NFLPA in June. After three decades in the corporate world, Howell won the player election after a search conducted by Tretter and the NFLPA’s leadership team. Howell assumes the role of improving the working conditions and earning opportunities of the NFL’s 2,000 players.
This past offseason was a contentious time for a number of the NFL’s leading running backs. Despite coming off highly productive seasons — and in some cases, campaign years — they proved unsuccessful in securing multiyear contract extensions from their teams.
Late in the summer, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler and a number of high-profile backs held a video meeting to discuss courses of action running backs could take to create better leverage while negotiating with their teams.
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who led the NFL in rushing in 2022, Giants back Saquon Barkley and the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard all received franchise tag designations from their teams rather than multiyear contract extension offers. Jacobs and Barkley both refused to sign the tag, which called for the backs to earn a one-year, $10.1 million salary but eventually signed one-year deals worth between $2 million and $3 million more than the tag.
Jonathan Taylor was granted permission by the Colts to seek a trade after his team declined to offer him a contract extension, but nothing came to fruition by Indianapolis’ deadline of Aug. 29. Taylor is on the physically unable to perform list and has not played this season.
None has achieved the long-term security they all seek.
(Photo: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)