NFL owners, union at odds over pads

By the 2013 season, all NFL players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads.

Or will they?

NFL owners voted Tuesday to make those pads mandatory, but the NFL Players Assn. quickly responded that changes such as those need to be collectively negotiated, opening another of several battlefronts between the league and the union.

“While the NFL is focused on one element and health and safety today, the NFLPA believes that health and safety requires a comprehensive approach and commitment,” the union said in a written statement. “We are engaged in and monitor many different issues, such as players’ access to medical records, prescription usage and the situation with professional football’s first responders, NFL referees.

“We always look forward to meeting with the NFL to discuss any and all matters related to player health and safety.”

The issue of mandatory leg padding has been contemplated by the league for three years, although owners did scuttle the notion of requiring players to wear hip pads. Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said the league can apply the requirement unilaterally because it is a playing rule, as opposed to a change in working conditions.

“Some of us felt we were remiss that we took it out of the rule book — high school and college makes it mandatory — and in our mind that is how it should be and will be in 2013,” McKay said. “We have some work to do with the union.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league and union “have to drive toward solutions” when it comes to safety issues.

“At some point, you have to make some decisions about what is best for the game,” Goodell said. “Pads are a great example of it. Three years of discussion. The technology has advanced. In fact, the CEO of Nike recently told me when they introduced the new uniforms that NBA players were wearing more pads from the hips down than NFL players. There is something wrong with that. We need to put that protection in.”

Also at the meetings, which were held in Atlanta, owners voted to move the trading deadline from Week 6 to Week 8, pending approval from the Management Council and union.

The owners also approved changing the injured-reserve rule, allowing teams to place one player on IR for part of the season, as opposed to the full season. That player would count against the roster limit only when he has been reactivated.

Meanwhile, an arbitrator upheld the salary-cap reductions the league placed on Washington and Dallas for this season and next season. Stephen Burbank dismissed the grievances filed by the teams, meaning the Redskins will lose $36 million and the Cowboys $10 million — both over the next two years — for overloading contracts during the uncapped 2010 season.