For those looking to read the tea leaves and decipher just how the NFL-NFLPA labor negotiations are going, this is a good one. Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported on Tuesday afternoon that commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith are flying to Florida together from ongoing negotiations in Minnesota. Both will return to Minneapolis to resume talks on Wednesday.
The purpose of the trip is for Goodell to speak at the 2011 rookie symposium, the annual crash course for new players that is usually sponsored by the league. This year, with the lockout talks at an especially adversarial turn in late May, the NFL claimed that the complexity of staging the event would be prohibitive. At that point, the NFLPA took hold of the event, which was supposed to go off in Canton, Ohio, on June 26, and moved it to Bradenton, Fla., through this week.
Amazing how things can turn in a month. The two sides are in their fourth straight week of confidential negotiations, which Goodell and Smith were holding this week in Minnesota without owners and players present. There had been larger groups in previous weeks, and the encouraging tone of the talks had many believing that the one-on-one nature of these talks could lead to at least a handshake agreement.
There's no way of knowing just where the talks stand now, but the fact that the men leading both points of view are on the same flight, to the same end point, for one to deliver a speech right at the heart of the other's event, makes one wonder if this year's symposium isn't the lockout's version of Appomattox.
Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole reported that the "drop-dead" date to come to an agreement and start a new league year in time for the preseason to go off without a hitch would be July 15, though that may be stretching it. Logistics seem to dictate that the first week of July would be about the reasonable limit. Fortunately for all involved, the indicators are mounting that just such a thing could happen.
In other words, we're that much closer to actual football again, folks.
- Roger Goodell