UPDATE: On Thursday morning, ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter first reported that DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFLPA, and various players association officials were in Chicago for what was actually a negotiating session in which it was hoped that the vast divide between the owners and players could be bridged -- perhaps as a precursor to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Schefter also reported that the meetings were so confidential, some owners didn't know that they were taking place. Certainly an interesting series of developments with the next hearing just a day away. Stay tuned for more details as we get them...
With the next labor hearing beginning on Friday on front of the Eighth Circuit Court in St. Louis, another opportunity for the players to argue the legality of the current should lead to some drama in what has been an all-too-quiet NFL landscape of late. And as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has sleuthed, the drama is beginning before the date of the hearing.
Biggs figured out that three important owners — Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers — met in the Windy City with Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday. Kraft's private jet was spotted at DuPage Airport, as was Jones' Gulfstream with blue stars on each side of the tail. Sources also placed Richardson and Goodell at the private confab. Kraft was apparently questioned about his business in Chicago, but gave no comment.
Of course, the meeting could mean any number of things — it could be a strategy session for the NFL in the event that they win the next round with the Eighth Circuit Court (which they expect to do), or an entreaty to a possible negotiation strategy should they lose. It could have been a meeting with members of the NFLPA, though that seems less likely — as much as Goodell has been ringing the bell for 'negotiation, not litigation," the only recent discussions have been legally mandated ones.
It could also have been a discussion about a possible ruling for damages by Judge David Doty in the lockout insurance case — the players have asked for damages exceeding $700 million after Doty found that the owners had colluded to try and set up a $4 billion slush fund with 2011 television money, and Doty could do a lot worse if he so chose — he could rule for treble damages and really give the owners something to cry about. Or it could just be three of the league's most powerful owners telling Goodell what he needs to know about the way the next wave of labor issues will go.
We can only hope that the meeting is a precursor to negotiations — ANY kind of negotiations — instead of the stalemate that has dragged on for months. It's unlikely that either side will move until the Eighth Circuit Court rules again, but one never knows.