Tom Pelissero / USA Today Sports
The NFL Players Association is warning agents about the potential consequences of having their players sign with the New Orleans Saints in light of an ongoing workers compensation fight in Louisiana.
In an email to agents Friday, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote the union is actively involved in an effort to defeat legislation backed by the Saints that would "substantially reduce workers' compensation benefits for players injured at any time other than during the 17 weeks of the regular season."
Smith's letter ends: "Please advise your players of the potential consequences of the Saints' efforts should they sign with the Saints."
The Saints fired back Friday afternoon, saying it was only trying to work to protect the existing state law.
"While the NFLPA has inappropriately and unprofessionally discouraged free agents from coming to Louisiana, they fail to mention that they have aggressively instigated legislative efforts in Louisiana since 2010 in an effort to undo the prevailing case law," said Christopher J. Kane of Adams and Reese, outside counsel to the team. "In 2010, 2012 and 2014, the NFLPA first filed bills in each session proposing an exception for professional athletes from the case law. Only in response to those legislative efforts did the Saints lodge an opposition in an effort to protect the jurisprudence."
The union has deployed substantial time and resources recently into the case in Louisiana. Kevin Mawae, who grew up in Louisiana and is the former NFLPA president, is among those involved.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees sent a tweet Tuesday on the matter that read: "Don't get involved in politics often but Fighting 4 my teammates & LA workers. Say NO to Bill 1069."
The bill by Rep. Chris Broadwater passed the Louisiana House this week and could come up in Senate committee next week. It calculates workers comp benefits for injured athletes, based on earnings at the time of the injury. Brees and the NFL Players Association believe benefits should be based on future earnings.
Spokesmen for the NFL and the Saints did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Smith's letter Friday.
Earlier in the week, the Saints' outside counsel, Christopher Kane, told ESPN.com the proposed bill wouldn't affect benefits for players under the collective-bargaining agreement and is a response to the union's repeated attempts to push an opposing bill through the Louisiana senate.
"The main issue is that we didn't pick this fight," Kane told the website. "We are continuously being required to apply what the courts have already adjudicated, including now three legislative sessions (the senate bills being denied). I believe this will stop needless litigation on the issue.
"In our minds, it's been ruled on, let's move on."
Smith's letter comes at the same time the NFLPA is preparing for an arbitration hearing on a grievance filed against the Saints on behalf of Jimmy Graham, challenging his designation as a tight end on the franchise tag.
With several other outstanding issues to be resolved between the league and union – including a comprehensive drug policy and expanded playoffs, which NFL owners could approve at meetings next week – the workers' comp case is one more potential leverage chip.
Here's the complete text of Smith's letter:
"As you know, our players are generally forced to seek workers' compensation benefits for injury care and loss of wages in the state where they are employed. Accordingly, we have always aggressively fought any effort by the NFL or its teams to seek 'special' legislation which would bar or reduce workers' compensation benefits for professional athletes. Recently, we have opposed such efforts by the NFL and its teams in California, Arizona, North Carolina and now Louisiana. For example, in 2009/2010 we successfully fought an effort by the New Orleans Saints and the NFL to effectively reduce workers' compensation benefits for our players. Last week, the Saints organization again sponsored legislation that would substantially reduce workers' compensation benefits for players injured at any time other than during the 17 weeks of the regular season. In other words the bill, if passed, seeks to provide a lower benefit for a player injured in OTA's, mini-camps, training camp or even post-season. We are actively involved in the effort to defeat this bill but we feel it is important for you to consider the Saints' efforts given your representation of our players and the advice you would have to give to any free agent player considering an opportunity to play for the Saints.
"Please advise your players of the potential consequences of the Saints' efforts should they sign with the Saints."