All reports indicate that the owners and players are on the one-yard line when it comes to ending the current lockout and bringing a new collective bargaining agreement and full season to fruition, but as the fans of every bad team knows, possessions on the one-yard line provide no scoring guarantees. There are still several outstanding issues to be dealt with, which is why the owners and players will meet with mediator Judge Arthur Boylan on Tuesday (and possibly Monday) in Washington, D.C or New York.
Of course, the expectation and overriding hope is that the final mechanics of a new CBA will be done in time for the owners to ratify it at their next meetings in Atlanta on Thursday, but there's no sure thing at this point — especially since the players have put two specific issues on the table in a fourth-quarter move.
According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com, the NFLPA is now asking for $320 million in benefits that were lost in the 2010 uncapped season, and a provision in the new CBA that would allow teams to use the franchise tag just once on any player. Currently, teams are allowed to franchise players three straight seasons, with increasing one-year salaries in each instance.
Other issues include:
The settlement of the Brady v. NFL lawsuit. As Mortensen reports, it's possible that this could include no free-agent restrictions on all named plaintiffs, including Peyton Manning, Logan Mankins, Drew Brees, and Vincent Jackson.
The damages in the lockout insurance case. When Judge David Doty ruled in favor of the players in the case that proved the owners were strong-arming several television networks to set up a lockout slush fund, $4 billion in TV money went into escrow, and both sides are awaiting a ruling from Doty on final damages. It's entirely possible that the players' last-minute request for lost benefits is reflective of the fact that the owners would rather not find out what's behind Doty's "Door #1" when it comes to damages. Doty has generally ruled in favor of the players, and the owners were caught red-handed in trying to illegally fund an extended work stoppage.
The opt-out language of the deal. The estimation is that the new CBA will last 10 years, but the owners opted out of the last CBA after just two years. Who will be allowed to do so in the new CBA, under what circumstances, and after how many years?
Workmen's compensation issues are also on the table, as are the final nature of preseason workouts from a full-contact perspective. Reports indicate that two-a-days will effectively be eliminated, with walkthroughs replacing those second daily contact drills. The extent to which this will happen is still subject to negotiation.
So, the process is still complex, but this is no time to get discouraged. Both sides have made enormous progress in the last three weeks, and barring something really bizarre happening, there isn't enough left to deal with to scuttle a deal in time for a full season. These remaining negotiating points must be dealt with, and there may be a few more things to pop up as a matter of gamesmanship, but it's a reasonable certainty that we're experiencing the last full weekend of the lockout.