For the second straight week, legal teams representing the owners and players got together in a Manhattan law firm on Monday and Tuesday to hash out and eliminate the smaller details standing in the way of a new collective bargaining agreement. And for the second straight week, those owners and players are set to begin talks on Wednesday, Thursday, and later in the week if necessary. Last week, the two sides made significant (if contentious) progress toward ending the lockout that's been in place since March 11, to the point that the ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court last Friday slowed things up more from a procedural perspective (both sides had to stop to read and interpret the decision) than any sort of new leverage stand.
Both sides are close to an agreement, and everyone senses it. The plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL lawsuit released the following statement Wednesday morning: "We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done. This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello weighed in with the league's inevitable response: "We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players' negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."
Wednesday morning's roster includes six owners as opposed to the usual four or five — Carolina Panthers owner and labor committee chair Jerry Richardson, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will also be part of the process. The players' side will be represented by, among others, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
The primary issue on the table, as we have detailed before, is the new rookie wage scale and how it will be implemented. The players' side has agreed to basically cut the first-year pay scale in half, but asks for concessions in return regarding the number of years in each rookie contract and the ability to negotiate earlier in those rookie deals based on performance. Just as nobody wants a situation where JaMarcus Russell waddles away with $39 million of Al Davis' money for doing nothing, it's not any better for the league if Chris Johnson has to hold out because he's set to make a $550,000 base the year after he rushes for over 2,000 yards. The secondary issue is what to do with the estimated player costs siphoned off that pay scale; estimated to be anywhere from $200 million to $300 million. Both sides want a large percentage to go to retired players, but the number is still a point of contention.
Both sides also have a series of deadlines to consider. The long-held "drop-dead" date of July 15 for a deal to be at least agreed upon in principle still holds; the two parties will meet with mediator Judge Arthur Boylan on July 19, and the hope is that a new CBA will be ready to be ratified at the next owners meetings in Atlanta on July 21. If those dates were to hold, the transition dates put in place to facilitate the process would most likely hold, and a full preseason (possibly minus the Hall of Fame Game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams on August 7) would be in place.
If the talks go any longer and preseason games are lost, there's far less incentive for the owners to negotiate and compromise — they'll be losing at least $200 million per week in revenue, the preseason being the enormous money-grab that it is — and they might be more inclined to see how far they can take the stalemate to break the union once and for all. Right now, everyone has dollar signs in their eyes, and as long as it stays that way, there's serious hope of a full season.
That's why the next few days are so critical to the process. As always, we'll keep you posted as events dictate.