NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith will begin four straight days of negotiations Tuesday in Manhattan as the dialogue between the two sides continues. The owners and players will not be involved in person until Thursday; the next two days will be more about trading and fine-tuning proposals with legal teams involved so that when the talks expand later in the week, there's more to talk about — and perhaps even something to agree upon. Goodell and Smith may not be in the room at the same time early on, where it's about the legal language of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Last week saw a major swing in talks, from the near-disaster on Thursday to the more reasonable conclusion on Friday, when everybody seemed to get back on the same page. According to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, both sides are still very wary of something being shoehorned in at the 11th hour that isn't equitable — by all accounts, the blowups on Thursday had a lot to do with the players' perception that the owners were trying to re-introduce expense credits off the top of the revenue pie. Mediator Arthur Boylan, who must balance all arguments while keeping a host of judges appraised of the progress, is generally credited as the one person who held things together, keeping the two sides talking until 1 a.m. Friday morning. According to NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello, the two sides kept discussions open to a point through the holiday weekend.
This week is the most important to the process so far; any backslide from here could complicate things into the season and put multiple regular-season games at risk. The moment the owners start losing serious revenue is the moment most of them would be just fine with pulling whatever deal is proposed and heading back to the courts for more leverage if they can get it. The reason is simple — the revenue gained from the 2011 preseason for the owners is estimated to be anywhere from $700,000 to $1 billion.
It's always been a major money-grab for the owners (reduced player costs and comparatively higher revenues), which is why Roger Goodell tends to plug his ears and yell, "LA LA LA I AM NOT LISTENING TO YOU" whenever someone brings up the idea that the NFL should either reduce the cost for preseason tickets or simply cut the preseason in half without adding two regular-season games. The pressure is on both sides to get something on paper and agreed to in the short term so that the league year can start and the process can move forward.
The "drop-dead" date for a new agreement to facilitate a full preseason seems to be July 15, and if things go too far beyond that, there's simply no way to open the league year, get the CBA in effect, have a preseason and free agency in time, and start operations in a cohesive fashion. At that point, deserved or not, the owners will blame the players for revenues lost even more than they already do, and we're basically back to square one. The owners could claim that a deal is now not there to be made, the Eighth Circuit Court would likely renew its involvement (Boylan has been communicating with the court regarding the talks), and things could head down the rabbit hole in a big hurry. The court could deem the lockout illegal and force the owners to open their doors, but both sides have been told that if they leave this in the court's hands, they'll each get a deal they won't like.
That would put us back in this same situation a couple years from now, with a force-fed labor situation running out of gas and a group of owners ready to slam the doors shut. It's worth taking the time to get this CBA right in ways that the two sides didn't in 2006, but it's also very clear that time is running out. For a new deal to happen in time, everybody involved will have to bend, accept that they're not going to get everything they want, and understand that the only way the NFL is going to hit its projected (and enormous) revenue projections over the next decade is to keep the American public from realizing that it can, indeed, get along without the grand old game.
This week is the big push, and that's the one thing all sides have in common.
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