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Labor talks encourage Rams’ Jackson

Last week Steven Jackson was skeptical a new NFL collective bargaining agreement would happen anytime soon.

But the St. Louis Rams running back and former Eldorado High School star said recent developments offer a ray of hope.

“Both sides started out far apart, but now we are seeing a lot of dialogue take place,” Jackson said.

The league and its players’ union have been in mediation since Feb. 18. The sides have agreed to extend the deadline for the CBA’s expiration by a week, until the end of the day Friday, as negotiations continue in hopes of avoiding the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.

Jackson and his Las Vegas-based agent, Steve Caric, said that before late last week the owners had consistently turned down union proposals without discussion.

Two issues particularly concern Jackson.

If the NFL establishes a rookie wage scale, the 27-year-old wants the money saved from reducing first-year players’ salaries used to increase veteran players’ pay.

Jackson is leery of the proposed 18-game schedule. The current 16-game schedule takes a heavy toll on running backs, particularly those as physical as the 6-foot-2-inch, 235-pound Jackson, who last season rushed for 1,241 yards.

Two more games, Jackson said, could shorten the average NFL career from three years to two.

“I don’t think (owners) understand the wear and tear on the body,” Jackson said.

The Atlanta Falcons had weekly meetings with their rookies last season on life away from the field and instructed them to be prepared for a work stoppage.

Offensive lineman Joe Hawley paid attention, figuring even someone who last year signed a $2.27 million, four-year contract that included a $483,000 signing bonus needed to be careful.

The former UNLV standout splurged on a Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson edition pickup but on the advice of his financial planner didn’t buy a home. Hawley instead rented an apartment close to the team facility northeast of Atlanta.

“I was saving my money and planning to go a year without a paycheck,” Hawley said.

Hawley is optimistic that no games will be lost.

But if there is no agreement by the time the CBA expires, the season will be in danger. Owners could lock out the players, or the union could decertify, a move that would allow the players to sue the NFL for violating antitrust laws if there is a lockout.

Caric said last week’s ruling by a federal judge that owners couldn’t receive $4 billion from the television networks “shows the owners’ intent for the last two years. Anybody who reads (the ruling) can see it wasn’t the union that wasn’t negotiating in good faith, it was the league. They left money on the table in 2009 and 2010 so they could have money for the lockout.”

If there is a work stoppage, many players will train together on their own and prepare in case an agreement is reached in time to save the season. The NFL Draft will go on as scheduled, April 28 to 30, regardless of what happens.

Caric, who also represents draft prospect and former UNLV offensive tackle Matt Murphy, said if there is a lockout, teams will draft more for need, rather than take the best overall player, because of the inability to sign free agents.

That also means players who go undrafted wouldn’t be allowed to sign as free agents until after a new CBA is in place.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914.

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