By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
The NFL sees a soft deadline of nine days for the NFL Players Association to agree to the implementation of human growth hormone testing, league executive Adolpho Birch told NFL.com's Albert Breer on Thursday afternoon.
Birch, the NFL's senior vice president of law and labor policy, said the league has negotiated fairly with the union in all aspects of HGH testing. However, time is of the essence to begin testing; the regular season starts Sept. 5, with the final roster cutdown on Aug. 31.
"The agreement we have now says we will get specimens from all players during the preseason," Birch said. "We have nine days left in preseason. Because I presume it was important to put that in as a period of time to do it within, it's a self-limiting provision. So as it stands, we have nine days. And it's actually less than that, because logistically, we'd have to start sooner to get it done by then."
George Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director of external affairs, told Breer that the union and league likely need an agreement by early next week, considering it'd take one to two days to organize the blood draw, then three to five days to complete it.
Birch said the league has made concessions to create a population study and a third-party arbitration process over simple positive tests and agreed not to have game-day blood testing.
"I'm telling you, we've put together an agreement that has satisfied every concern the union has," Birch said. "And we've done it by agreeing to ways we don't always agree to be the most appropriate.
"But there are things we can agree to live with, and to advance the ball and get testing, we're going forward with. We've done everything we can, within limits, and those limits include further reductions to the commissioner's authority."
The union's desire to remove NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from the appeals process is the point of contention.
"From the league's perspective, we're talking about an authority and responsibility that the commissioner has had for more than 50 years," Birch said. "It's at the core of the commissioner's responsibility -- he's the one protecting the integrity of the game, and he determines what impact those things have on the long-term best interests of football. That's why the commissioner is not willing to cede to someone that's not similarly invested in the good of the game."
Countered Atallah: "Neutral arbitration has to be a cornerstone of this policy, given that our membership believes it is essential to moving forward. (NFLPA player reps) have now reviewed and voted on all aspects of the policy twice. And in every instance, neutral arbitration for all elements of the performance-enhancing drug policy was critical to them."
The back and forth started Thursday morning, when NFLPA president Dominque Foxworth called for the league to keep Goodell from having a disciplinary role in the appeals process.
"If the NFL justifies keeping Roger's power because of the CBA, then why did they agree to change it for every other part of the new policy?" Foxworth wrote in an email to USA Today Sports. "The fact is he wants a 'carve out' and an exception to neutral arbitration. All of our players voted for fairness."
Birch responded to Foxworth's comments by telling the NFLPA to stop stalling and move forward with the implementation of HGH testing.
"The union knows that HGH testing is the right thing to do for our game, for its membership and for the millions of people who look to the NFL and NFL players to set the example for fair and exciting play," Birch said in a statement. "It is time for the NFLPA to stop the delay tactics, to move forward for the good of the game and players, and stop focusing on protecting people that break the law."
The league and union have gone two years without agreeing on a process for implementation of HGH testing. The sides approved HGH testing as part of the collective bargaining agreement that was ratified two years ago, but for various reasons during negotiations, testing has yet to begin.