DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, addressed some growing concerns around the league, including the collective bargaining agreement, player safety and protests during the national anthem, during a press conference on Thursday.
With three years remaining on the current CBA signed in 2011, Smith and NFLPA president Eric Winston didn't sound like they were expecting an extension to happen soon.
“We are preparing for a long arduous process,” Winston said, via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Smith echoed Winston's sentiment about the ensuing labor talks: “We prepare for war," via Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
In an interview with The MMQB last August, Smith noted the "likelihood of either a strike or a lockout is almost a virtual certainty" when the CBA expires in 2021.
One issue NFLPA executive committee member Zak DeOssie said they hope to negotiate in the next labor deal is commissioner Roger Goodell's authority over player discipline, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero.
Per USA Today's Mike Jones, Smith said the NFL and NFLPA are having discussions about ways to make Thursday night games safer.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman wrote a 2016 article for the Players' Tribune that was critical of the NFL for not caring about player safety by having games played on Thursday.
"The NFL preaches player safety," he wrote. "The league says it wants to do everything in its power to protect its players. But when it comes down to it, it’s not the players that the NFL protects.
"It’s the Shield."
Smith also touched on the current state of the NFL's concussion protocol that players must go through before they can be cleared to play in games.
"The goal of the concussion protocol is to improve the care that players were given," he said, via the NFLPA.
The NFL's television ratings were also a constant topic of conversation during the season. Viewership was down 9.7 percent in 2017, per ESPN's Darren Rovell.
Smith didn't put blame on any one factor when asked if protests during the national anthem played a role in the drop in television numbers.
"To try to pin declining ratings on any single thing is to be intellectually dishonest," Smith said, via the NFLPA.
Per ESPN's Kevin Seifert, Smith called 2017 one of "most exciting and rewarding and thrilling years I've had in this job" because players used their platform and voice to speak out on issues outside of football.
The NFL is still in a good place overall. Rovell noted average viewership for a game was 14.9 million people. The four most-watched television programs in the 18-49 demographic last year were NFL games, and a Sept. 10 Sunday Night Football game was tied for fifth.
There are some things that both sides want—and need—to clear up as they prepare to enter labor negotiations before a potential 2021 work stoppage.