Q&A: NFLPA’s Mawae on talks with 49ers, lockout

Before he became fully embroiled in negotiations with NFL owners, Kevin Mawae, the president of the now-dissolved NFL players’ union, was involved in brief discussions with the 49ers last August.

Mawae, an eight-time Pro Bowl center, was contacted by the Niners after Eric Heitmann suffered a broken leg in training camp. Then 39, Mawae was coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Titans and was looking for a chance to continue his 16-year career.

The Niners offered a one-year, $860,000 contract, the minimum for a player with his experience. Mawae, with a wife and two children entrenched in Tennessee, declined the offer and retired in September.

Mawae, of course, has since been quite busy in retirement given his title with the NFLPA, which he’s held since 2008.

The Press Democrat recently caught up with Mawae, via e-mail, and asked him about his talks with the Niners last summer and issues related to the NFL lockout.

Q: Who contacted you last summer from the 49ers? How close were you to signing with San Francisco?

KM: I spoke with Mike Singletary and had a great conversation with him. Eric Heitmann had just broken his leg. We discussed my role coming in to start, mentor the two young linemen San Francisco drafted, help with a young QB and be a team leader. My concern was time away from my family and whether or not it made sense. From a business standpoint, what would be expected of me and the compensation level didn’t match. That conversation took place between my agent and (49ers GM Trent Baalke). In the end, the monetary value of what was offered versus what they would’ve gotten in return did not justify leaving my family for several months.

Q: Mediation didn’t lead to a new collective bargaining agreement last month. Do you feel anything has changed? Why would mediation work now?

KM: The mediation process that took place in March was intended for both sides to move closer together in the negotiations. Unfortunately, it was a process that seemed to be a one-step forward, two-steps backward approach by the owners. In the end we did what was in the best interest of the players of the NFL. The difference in the mediation taking place now is that it has federal court oversight with the judge requiring that both sides have a designated party who has decision-making authority. That was not the case in Washington, D.C.

NOTE: Negotiators for the NFL and its players met Thursday and Friday for a combined 13 hours of court-ordered mediation in Minneapolis. They are scheduled to meet again Tuesday morning.

Q: Most NFL players presumably have the financial means to weather a lengthy lockout. Are you concerned about the hardship fringe players could face if a lockout drags on and how that could, in time, weaken the (former) NFLPA’s solidarity?

KM: We believe the players have taken our warnings to heart over the last two years, and believe most were prepared for this lockout. There will always be some who don’t prepare, but none can say they weren’t told. We have taken measures to set aside reimbursement funds that have not begun to be payed out. If the lockout is prolonged, we believe the players will be OK. As for the fringe players, we have taken steps to identify young players who may not have the wherewithal to maintain in an uncertain time, and even older, and more financially stable players have stepped up to help their brothers.

Q: Is the (former) NFLPA still planning to hold an alternative event during the NFL draft? If so, do you know of any prospects who are planning to attend?

KM: We are still the NFLPA, just not a union.  And we have not planned any competing events but do have events for draftees as a welcome debut to the NFL, including community service, a welcome party and pre- and post-draft events.

NOTE: The NFLPA has announced 20 draftees plan to participate in “NFLPA Rookie Debut” events during the NFL draft from April 28-30. The events are expected to include more than 20 current or former NFL players, including Roger Craig and 49ers free-agent linebacker Takeo Spikes.

The draftees scheduled to attend: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska; Marvin Austin, North Carolina; Adrian Clayborn, Iowa; Marcell Dareus, Alabama; Nick Fairley, Auburn; Blaine Gabbert, Missouri; A.J. Green, Georgia; Mark Ingram, Alabama; Julio Jones, Alabama Cameron Jordan, Cal; Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue; Corey Liuget, Illinois; Von Miller, Texas A&M; Rahim Moore, UCLA; Cam Newton, Auburn; Patrick Peterson, LSU Robert Quinn, North Carolina; Aldon Smith, Missouri; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State and J.J. Watt, Wisconsin.

Q: Free-agent QB Chad Pennington recently tore his ACL while playing basketball. What is your advice to players regarding participation in extracurricular activities during the lockout?

KM: Whether during a lockout or not, every professional athlete has to be smart about what their off-field/court activities are and determine what’s best for them.  I’ve had teammates blow out their knee chasing their kids around the yard …

Q: Players obviously can’t use team facilities to work out during the lockout. As a former player, how could players suffer in terms of preparation for the season when they work out on their own?

KM: Outside of getting injured off premises, if they are professionals like they should be, working out on their own will prepare them just as much as at the team facility.

Q: How has the structure of the NFLPA changed since it decertified?

KM: We are no longer allowed to collectively bargain for the players, however, we still maintain the marketing and licensing rights of the players. We can and will refer legal matters to qualified attorneys for the players, and have received permission from the players to help in their ongoing grievances.

Q: The fans increasingly seem fed-up with bickering between the two sides and just want a deal to get done. How do you respond to their frustration?

KM: The players are just as frustrated. We want to go back to work as well.

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