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An NFLPA Player Rep On De Smith’s Uncertain Future

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On Tuesday night, the NFL Players Association’s selection committee voted on whether executive director DeMaurice Smith should remain in charge of the union, a role he’s held for the last 12 years. To earn a new contract, Smith needed unanimous approval from the 14-member selection committee. ESPN reported Wednesday that the vote was split, and Smith only received seven votes in his favor. 

Because the executive committee was not unanimous in support of Smith, the vote now opens up to the 32 players who represent each individual club. They’ll gather on a call Friday night at 6 p.m. ET to vote on Smith’s future. If Smith gets 22 of 32 votes, the NFLPA’s constitution says that he will be reelected and can negotiate a new contract for himself. If he gets fewer than 22 votes, the job is open for challengers, who could run for the position to be decided at the NFLPA’s March meeting.

Smith’s legacy will be the 2020 CBA, which passed by a slim margin of 1,019-959, mostly because of the controversial inclusion of the 17-game season. It seems some are still sore about that. The last time Smith was up for an extension, in September 2017, the selection committee voted unanimously to extend him; the 32 player reps didn’t get to vote last time around.

Smith was a trial lawyer before he became the executive director. He is not a former NFL player like his predecessor, who led the union for 25 years, Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw. One tipster (we couldn’t confirm this) told us that some players have reached out to Anthony Gonzalez, the former Colts receiver who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2019. Gonzalez just recently announced he will not run for reelection when his term ends next year. Gonzalez’s former NFL agent told Defector that Gonzalez has not been contacted by anyone regarding the executive director job.

Defector spoke to one player representative on Friday morning, ahead of tonight’s player rep vote. He wanted to remain anonymous because he did not receive approval from his club to speak. As of now, he says, he’s undecided.

What was your reaction to the Tuesday vote that wound up split? Did that surprise you?  

I definitely did not think he would get a unanimous pass, that part did not surprise me. I will say just from talking to people, that the seven people who voted no, it was not necessarily like, Hey, we want De out. My understanding is that De is wanting to transition his way out of the role. Not necessarily right now, but he doesn’t see himself doing this in 15 years, so he is like, maybe let’s start transitioning out and that is part of the reason he got some Nos. There were a few people who were like Yeah, I just want De out, but I think for the most part, most of those Nos were just, Yeah, we need to start that transition phase.

Now my understanding is, if we vote No on him, we are not sure if he is even going to re-run, so he may just take himself out and that gives us four or five months to find his replacement, which is not really a ton of time, so I think that is kind of the conflict. We know there is going to be a transition to a new executive director coming in the coming years, it’s just, do we want to rush and figure that out immediately, or is that something that we want to give De another couple years and take our time to find that replacement? 

There was an evaluation meeting in September where Smith presented his own report card to the selection committee. You are not on the selection committee, but did you get to review any of that material? 

I definitely received some material, not sure if I received all of it, mostly what I looked at was a synopsis of everything—there was quite a bit of stuff, mostly CBA comparisons from like 2011 to the 2020 CBA. 

So your understanding is that Smith wants to transition out of the executive director role. Is that something he explicitly said in any of these recent meetings? Have you heard that from talking to other players in those meetings? 

I don’t know. He doesn’t see himself doing this 10 or 15 years from now and he is wanting to slowly sign off and he does not mind ushering in and showing his replacement how the way things are done and stuff like that, and that is his preferred way to exit. He just believes it is the best thing for the union, and I would agree with that, but at the same time, I am on the fence about it personally. I see that side of it where that [slow transition] is the best thing for the union, but there is something to it, if we know we are not going to have you long-term, let’s just find somebody new now. 

You think the best thing for the union would be to re-elect him and then search for the next director? To slowly transition?

Yeah, yeah. There are a lot of people who believe that is the best thing for the union, and then a lot who think we should find somebody new right now and get a fresh start. I tend to lean more towards the first, a slower transition, let De show them the way, because that would give us more time to actually do a thorough search. I think it is less about De showing them how to do things and more about finding the right candidate and taking our time doing it and not being rushed to do that before March. Most of us are in season anyway and don’t have time to devote to that.

Have any names been tossed around for the next executive director? 

Not that I am aware of. 

Is there a model of who the next executive director should be? Are you looking for a former player in the role? 

I would like to see a former player in there. I am not saying it would have to be, but that would stick out to me on a résumé. I am not on the executive committee or selection committee, so it’s not something I have thought a ton about it. Only in the last 24 hours have I gotten most of this information, so I haven’t thought a ton about it.

What do you think of the way this re-election process is structured? There’s essentially a vote to decide whether or not the current executive director should have to run against anyone in an election, and then another vote, if needed, to decide the same thing again. Is that weird to you? 

Yeah, it seems like it is built to keep him in right? My history with the PA doesn’t go back that far in terms of being informed, but I do believe in 2015 there was a shitshow of an election. I think it automatically went to an election after every term, or something happened that basically there were a ton of people who were not qualified, and guys were sitting in there interviewing people all day and it was a huge waste of time and this process was put in place to avoid that situation for us.

How will you vote tonight?

I don’t know. I am very much on the fence. I do know, on the call tonight, De is going to talk and I imagine a few other people will talk and shed more light on it. Everything I have heard has been like playing telephone through multiple people so I want to hear what he has to say and that is going to determine what I do. 

Did you vote yes or no on the CBA? And will that affect how you vote on Smith? Are these two things tied?
Not necessarily, so I was a yes vote on the CBA, and that was more just because every person had to vote what was best for them. I saw both sides of it. So no, I don’t necessarily think they are tied. You can think the CBA was a good deal or a bad deal and simply because De seems like he is ready to move on, you could vote a different way because of that. My question is, how long is he willing to serve? Is he already mentally moved on from this? Or is this something he is going to try to do a few more years and usher in a new person?

Have you discussed tonight’s vote with other player reps? 

I have discussed it with other player reps, not in depth, but it is mostly something I will try to figure out in this meeting. Try to hear him out and see what he has to say. We’ll be able to ask him questions I’m sure.

Do you think he’s done a good job? What are your complaints or critiques? 

So, my history doesn’t go very far back with him as a rep, so all of my complaints are hearsay and I don’t hold them too strongly against him. Overall I would say I think he has done a good job. Do I think he is the best we could find? I think there is probably somebody better out there. I am not saying they would be easy to find, though.

Some of the players have said that some of the negotiations were done without player input; it’s not that he was trying to do wrong by us, it was that he was in the room and had to make a decision and some guys didn’t like that. Those are the main complaints I hear about him. Overall I think he has done a good job. I am not an anti-De person.