NFLPA president Gene Upshaw was at Halas Hall Friday for an annual meeting with players following practice. There are a myriad of issues Upshaw is discussing with them as he makes the rounds. He was in Green Bay and Pittsburgh earlier in the week, and will travel again next week after spending the weekend at his home in Northern Virginia.
The collective bargaining agreement, performance-enhancing drugs, the franchise tag and many other issues are at play for Upshaw and his office. We spoke with him briefly about two hot-button topics that have been examined as he sat in the atrium of the building.
``They asked me if I wanted to go out and watch practice,’’ quipped the Hall of Fame offensive lineman. ``I said I didn’t want to be out there practicing when I was playing.’’
Q: A lot has been made recently about the pay structure for draft picks, specifically the guys at the top of the heap. JaMarcus Russell just got a six-year contract with $30 million guaranteed, putting him in the same financial realm as guys like Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady before he’s even thrown a single pass. Is something out of whack here when unproven draft picks are commanding much more than not just proven players, but proven stars?
Upshaw: The alternative, what you always hear, is why can’t you control what the rookies get? Our position has always been that you’re only a rookie for a year, after that you’re a veteran. Then, that contract will help even if it is a huge contract. If the Raiders are going to pay JaMarcus Russell whatever he got, you better believe Tom Brady and all the rest of those guys are saying, `Hey, wait a minute. If he’s getting all that and he hasn’t thrown a ball, what am I worth?’ Tony Romo, he’s going to be up now.
It sort of gets overplayed because if you look at the first five guys, they’re the guys who really make a lot. Then you look at the next five guys, by the time you get to the 10th guy, the [salaries] really start down. It’s only the first five, and then the next five. That’s why we put in the rule that the first-round draft picks are capped at six-year deals, and now the second-round picks can only sign four-year deals [so the other picks can get to free agency sooner].
The Bears weren't the only team having second-round picks sign five-year contracts, and then those guys are delayed getting to free agency. When you see the revenues grow and see everything going up, there is hardly any way around a guy making the money. It’s all guaranteed money and we want them to get as much as they can get, even as a rookie. You can’t screw the rookies because there are no assurances that the teams are going to take that money and give it to anyone else.
Q: The suspension of New England safety Rodney Harrison for his admittance to using Human Growth Hormone in the same sting that netted ex-Bears quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson has brought HGH even closer to light for the NFL. Where do you stand currently on testing for HGH, something the league does not do currently?
Upshaw: I was asked this [Thursday] in Green Bay by one of the quarterbacks, not Brett Favre, he wanted to know what my position is on blood tests, for HGH. I said I’m totally opposed to it. I would never agree to blood tests for HGH because the tests are not reliable and they don’t work. If they can develop, and we’re trying to develop a urine test for it, then we’ll test for it. At this point there is no test for HGH that is reliable. You almost have to take the test at the time the guy takes the HGH. That’s how it works.
What we try to do is stay ahead of the cheaters, but we also need science to stay up with it. As science changes, we’ll be willing to make some changes. Until there is a reliable test for HGH, I’m not going to have our guys becoming a pin cushion for blood tests because there are too many things that can go wrong with a blood test, it’s pretty invasive. When you look at urine, that’s different. We’ve been doing that for years. That’s not a problem. But when you start talking about poking a guy to get his blood, I’m not going to be in that situation.
Q: When you meet with players in your visits around the league, is blood testing and the potential use of HGH a concern you find?
Upshaw: It’s beginning to come up because of what has gone on with that whole lab and the investigation in Albany (N.Y.). It’s sort of bubbles to the top every few months. The players are not saying they are opposed to testing for HGH. What the players are saying is, `We are opposed to blood testing and we don’t have a reliable test.’ If you have a good test, we’ll talk about it.
I’m not going to let the Olympic committee, or anyone else tell us what is best for our players. We know what is best for our players and they’re not going to be the ones to tell us. What some of those other groups do, is they destroy a person’s reputation and then they find out that the test was faulty.