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Sunday, October 19, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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For Salas and others around NFL, the wait is almost over

By Dave Reardon

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Here's a new one: Ownership requesting formation of a union. Yes, technically it's re-formation of the NFL Players Association, but it's still an example of how complicated, crazy and turned-around things can get in labor negotiations -- especially when you're talking about highly-specialized laborers like the best football players in the world.

It's just a by-product of the lockout, which appears to be finally coming to a close.

The proposal approved by the owners looks like all the angst might have been worth it, assuming the players vote yes (and, after the obligatory posturing is done, why would they not, all things considered?).

Instead of the existing system where first-round draft picks who have never played a down in the NFL receive ridiculously huge bonuses, the new near-agreement takes better care of veterans who have proven their worth. And former players get a bigger piece of the pie, too -- close to a ten-figure piece.

"A billion dollars? I like hearing that," says John Wilbur, a players' advocate going back to his days as a lineman and union rep with the Redskins and Cowboys and as an agent for Jesse Sapolu, Rich Miano and others. "I can't even write that many zeros. Am I happy with that? The proof's in the pudding. Let's see what trickles down."

What about that lawsuit claiming information about the risks involved with concussions was withheld by the league?

That might be tough to prove in court. Perhaps everyone can agree the protective equipment must be improved.

"The helmet is the biggest thing," Wilbur says. "We need safer helmets now and we needed safer helmets then."

FOR GREG SALAS, yesterday's developments produced a mixed bag of emotions.

"Every time we get closer to ending the lockout, that's great news," says the former University of Hawaii receiver who was drafted in the fourth round by St. Louis.

That was tempered by the NFL's announcement that the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame preseason game between the Rams and Bears is canceled (if things go smoothly from here on, it should be the only game lost to the lockout).

It would have been Salas' first opportunity as a pro.

"Yeah, it is disappointing, but I don't know if we would have been ready as a team in time to play at a high level," Salas says.

He has worked out and run routes with quarterback Sam Bradford and other teammates twice, most recently about a month ago. But Salas knows that's not like practicing every day and learning a new system.

"I'm anxious," he says. "I'm ready to let the coaches get their hands on me and learn as much as I can as fast as I can."

For now, it's still a waiting game. As an incoming rookie, Salas doesn't have a vote. He says he trusts his future teammates "to do what's best for all of us."

Wayne Hunter is also in limbo, and has been since the start of the lockout about 133 days ago.

The 30-year-old tackle from Radford and UH is a free agent. While age isn't on his side, versatility is; he plays both tackle spots and short-yardage tight end. His agent, Kenny Zuckerman, hasn't been allowed to negotiate with teams because of the lockout, but expects quick resolution once it ends.

"If Wayne's going to re-sign with the Jets, he'll know within 72 hours of when this opens up. If he goes to another team, it will be done within another 72 hours."

Free-agency will be a sped-up process for everyone.

ZUCKERMAN CONTENDS the choicest plum for the players in the proposal has been overshadowed, and hugely benefits the league's rank-and-file. "The best part is not the cap, but the floor. Teams have to spend a minimum (on players) and now you have a real high floor," says the agent, who represents a slew of Hawaii-tied players including Salas. "These players deserve more than they were getting."

I agree with Zuckerman that the perception that the league is eating its young is not accurate. "There's not that much difference (for rookies) except for the first rounders. I applaud it," he says.

He adds everyone wins because of the length of the revenue-sharing component. Within the next 10 years a new TV deal will generate even more money to share.

The key is being prepared to cash in. For now, that means having stayed in shape during four-months-plus of lockout.

"Whether you're a minimum guy or a $5-million player, if you're out of shape you're going to get axed," Zuckerman says. "At the end of the day, the guys I work with tend to not have that problem. Almost without exception they've all kept themselves in great shape."


Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/dave_reardon.






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