Smith and Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth attended the meetings with the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee. Both described the sessions as "meet-and-greets" and declined to go into detail about what was discussed. But there are a couple of ways in which the union hopes Congress can factor into its strategy going forward.
First, Congress could threaten the NFL with a revocation of its antitrust exemption -- a federally-protected perk that allows the league to negotiate TV deals on behalf of all 32 teams and has, in the past, provided leverage for teams that threatened to relocate if they didn't get public funding for new stadium construction.
It's unclear to what extent Congress would want to get involved in the dispute between the NFL and its players, but baseball's recent drug scandals have shown that congressional leaders aren't shy about getting involved in sports-related matters. And during the 1994-95 Major League Baseball players' strike, legislation was introduced on Capitol Hill to revoke baseball's antitrust exemption. Should Congress determine that the NFL isn't acting in good faith in its negotiations, it's possible that it could force the league to do something it doesn't want to do.
Smith has been public about his desire for NFL owners to provide the union with audited financial statements as proof of the economic hardship they say led them to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. The NFL and the owners have so far refused to proved those. But if Congress felt the league weren't playing fair in its negotiations with the players, it could subpoena those statements, at which point they would be made public.
Smith told FanHouse last week that he believes the owners intend to lock out the players in 2011. The union says it will not strike, but it believes the owners would make money even if no games were played that year, and they worry that because of that the owners could lock the players out until these negotiations result in what they want -- namely a restructuring of a system that currently allots nearly 60 percent of league revenues to the players.
Currently, there is no scheduled date for the resumption of negotiations between the NFL and the union, though they are kicking around possible dates. Smith has been traveling, introducing himself and his message in meetings with about 20 of the 32 teams so far. Due in part to his schedule, it's likely negotiations wouldn't resume until late July or early August at the earliest.
There is some urgency to get a deal done by March, since if no deal is done by then the 2010 season would be played without a salary cap. That possibility is seen by many on both sides as undesirable, and if it happened it would be a major setback in negotiations that would seriously threaten the 2011 season.