Union leader Domonique Foxworth says NFL players don't trust Commissioner Roger Goodell because of the Saints bounty case, in particular.
The NFLPA president added he wouldn't be able to persuade players to have faith in the league even if he wanted to.
Speaking on a conference call Tuesday, days before union representatives meet with NFL officials at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, Foxworth returned to a theme he stressed at the NFLPA's pre-Super Bowl news conference.
"It's pretty obvious that there's a gap in what would be a reasonable amount of trust ..." Foxworth said. "There've been a number of events to lead players to believe they cannot trust the league.
"There was a bridge beginning to be built and then there were some recent events that kind of broke that bridge again."
Foxworth said the players are seeking checks and balances such as a neutral arbitrator to improve relations between the union and league. He cited the bounties and how former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was not "unbiased."
Yet Tagliabue made the final decision that tossed out the suspensions of four players.
"When things like that happen," the former defensive back said of Tagliabue's appointment by Goodell, "it's hard for our players to believe that the league has their best interests in mind. And that makes it harder for me to do my job, and for the PA to do our jobs and for the league to do their jobs. Because we really need to agree upon things, moving forward."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello insisted that the union has not looked ahead since a new collective bargaining agreement with the league was reached a year and a half ago.
"Since 2011 the union has spent most of its time backing away from its commitments," Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press. "Whether on old litigation, HGH, or commissioner discipline, the NFLPA has consistently looked backwards.
"Trust is a two-way street. If the union wants to work together to build a better, safer and even more popular game, we extend our hand in partnership and respect. If the union wants to stir up old grievances and create mistrust, we will simply have to do the best we can to serve the interests on the fans, players and the game."
Key issues Foxworth and other union officials will discuss with the NFL's competition committee in Indianapolis involve player safety, including the league's plan to make hip and thigh pads mandatory next season.
Many players have spoken out against such a requirement, saying using the pads should be optional. The NFL believes the pads will substantially reduce injuries or wear and tear on players.
Union spokesman George Atallah also mentioned a gap in trust when asked if the players have confidence in team medical staffs. Atallah said the union has weekly and even daily conversations with the league about team doctors and whether their allegiance is to the players or the clubs.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said last week he is concerned about David Chao remaining as the San Diego Chargers' team doctor. According to online records, the Medical Board of California is seeking to revoke Chao's license and has referred the case to the state attorney general for possible charges.
Foxworth generally didn't sound optimistic about quickly improving relations between the union and league, again citing the lack of trust.
"And if everything that we bring back to our players — every proposal that the league makes to us, we bring back to our players — and if they receive it from a negative place because they don't trust anybody on Park Avenue," he said, "then it's really hard to get anything done."
AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this story.