NFL owners will consider a series of rules regarding everything from the integrity of the game to having a few hairs out of place next week at the annual owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., but also lurking is a potential battle over the collective bargaining agreement.
The league's most powerful men will discuss how they want to approach the seemingly pending showdown with the players regarding the CBA, as a November deadline looms for the owners to vote to remain in the current agreement.
"I would anticipate there will be a healthy discussion about the CBA and what direction we're going," Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said a 90-minute discussion of the CBA was scheduled for Monday, among talks about other topics.
Between now and November, the owners must vote on whether to stay in the deal. Twenty-four of 32 yes votes from owners are required to continue the deal. If that mark isn't hit, the owners can opt out, which ultimately could lead to the 2010 season being the last salary capped year and the 2011 season facing the possibility of a lockout.
While all of that sounds ominous, much of it depends on how strong the NFL owners are when faced with the reality of cancelling games. Most observers believe the owners will balk when it comes time to hurt a season, knowing full well the league has much more to lose than the players.
Still, hard-line owners will try to push their agenda.
"This is the time when the owners can vent their frustrations about the salary cap and how much the players are making," said one NFL team executive. "There are some important issues that need to be discussed. There's a lot of liability in the owners' laps and they're uncomfortable with that. But they're also making a lot of money. Both sides are making a lot of money."
Earlier this month, the NFL Players Association held its annual meeting of player reps and executives in Hawaii. Aside from electing Kevin Mawae as president, a significant theme of those meetings was helping players make preparations for a possible lockout in March 2011. The union anticipates that a lockout could begin then if there is an uncapped year in 2010.
Veteran players have been advised to save money and reduce debt in anticipation of a lockout, which would lead to free agency being delayed until later in that offseason.
As for the owners, a number of them, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, have said that the current agreement needs adjustment. On average, however, NFL teams have at least $10 million in unused salary cap room from this year and last year, according to information from the union and the league's management council.