It was tough to buy in to the idea that the NFL lockout was either over or almost over based in the article in one small Massachusetts newspaper, especially when no larger news services picked it up and ran with it, and spokespeople from both sides — Greg Aiello of the NFL and George Atallah of the NFLPA -- immediately denied the report. However, when looking at the landscape as it stands now, there seems to be cause for legitimate optimism regarding an end to the labor battle for the first time in months. The owners and players have been meeting in private and have made commitments to continue doing so, and more and more sources are coming out and saying that while we're not all the way there yet, serious moves are being made.
Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle recently put up a blog post entitled "According to a couple of sources, NFL lockout could be over sooner than you think" in which he quotes two NFL people he knows. I've known Lance for while, and I know how dialed-in he is, so I'm of a mind to take this seriously. The post said, in part…
After lengthy discussions with both sources, they both conveyed to me a great deal of hope that a deal would be done by July and possibly as early as late June. Why the sudden optimism? According to one of the sources, "both sides are focusing on the percentage of total revenue coming in (would include the first $1 billion the owners are currently taking off the top) and if that deal gets done, the other issues will probably fall into place fairly quickly according to what I'm hearing."
The players currently make just over 59 percent of all revenue, but that does not include the $1 billion the owners take off the top. If that money is included in total revenue, the players get about 51 percent. While the owners are said to be low-balling the players on their revenue offer, both of my sources from the players' side said that the percentage appears to be negotiable and could easily come up to a number that both sides could agree upon.
"I am 100 times more hopeful than two weeks ago that a deal can get done relatively quickly" was the sentiment from one of my sources who also believes that issues like health care and the rookie salary are issues that could potentially "be done already".
Eric Edholm from Pro Football Weekly is another news source to be taken seriously; PFW isn't exactly in the habit of floating false rumors to get traction on the interwebs. Eric's recent piece was interesting in a different way, because he pointed to a specific date by which both sides might be encouraged to get a deal done:
Previous talk coming out of the owners' meetings at the end of May — namely from Colts owner Jim Irsay and NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash — appeared to target July 4 as a key date in the labor impasse. Both suggested that getting something done by that time would be necessary to have an uninterrupted 2011 season.
But a new date might be emerging. Sources have indicated to PFW that June 21, which is when the NFL owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago, might be a date to circle on the calendar. The reason for the escalated talks might indicate that the owners want to have a deal — or parameters of a deal — to vote on when they all assemble for the meeting.
A final Collective Bargaining Agreement might not happen until or around that July 4 date, and if that happened free agency would begin soon after. During normal seasons training camps typically open the final week of July, so reaching a deal around that time would allow for a three- or four-week free-agency period where players finally could change teams.
Add in the Twitter timeline of the NFL Network's Albert Breer, and you have three different reliable news sources telling you that there really is movement on the labor front, and motivation for everyone to move closer to the agreement that will guarantee a full season in 2011. We're not quite to the point where that one small newspaper's jumping the gun will be seen as anything less than that, but there's something serious going on that we can all be happy about.