The regular season is finished. 12 teams are getting ready for the chase for the Lombardi Trophy. Revolving doors are spinning coaches in and out and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is already being fitted for a Carolina Panthers jersey.
So what's the biggest story in the National Football League this week? Labor negotiations, naturally.
At least that's what league's commissioner and owners are trying to promote. With the postseason set to open on Saturday both Roger Goodell and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson have in the last week taken to the media to decry the pace of negotiations, blaming the stalemate on the players union.
"There hasn’t been a sense of urgency from the union side," Goodell told Pro Football Talk. "This is something that needs to get done quickly. It needs urgency and it needs a very strong commitment to making progress and not just meeting but making progress."
Not to be outdone, Richardson was even more condescending with his assessment. "It's said to me when I meet with the union lawyers, they say, 'Mr. Richardson we want more money, more benefits and we want to work less,'" Richardson told reporters. "Then they say, 'Let's begin the negotiations.'"
Meanwhile the timing of the comments haven't gone unnoticed by the union. George Atallah, NFL Players Association Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, tweeted his frustration on Wednesday.
"Heading into the first week of the NFL playoffs and the NFL wants to talk CBA. Sad that NFL headlines dominated by this," he wrote.
Of course, most labor negotiations are marked by continued sniping—something that's become more immediate in the age of social media. But with the advantage of being able to control the means of distribution (e.g. TV partners, the NFL Network and team and league-run websites), the owners have a larger platform on which to position their message.
While many players have taken to social media to present their concerns they have yet to find a broad medium in which to make a statement. Since the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints opened the season with every player holding up one finger in a show of solidarity, there haven't been as many widely reported union responses. Not that they haven't been made, they just seem to have a tougher time finding their way to the general public.
All of which could add another layer of intrigue to this year's playoffs. A recent post on Sports Media Watch reported that 65 of the top 100 sports broadcasts in 2010 were NFL games—including eight of the top 10—meaning the league dominated television sets during the year. That supremacy is only likely to get greater during the playoffs, giving the players the best chance they've had to state their case since opening weekend.
Here's a chance for the players to give the fans an idea of what they could be missing if there's no NFL football in 2011. Hence the reason the NFL is doing its best to state its case to the fans right now. After all, people are willing to pay good money to see Mike Vick and Tom Brady light up defenses, but very few would drop two nickels to watch Jerry Jones or Arthur Blank pace the sidelines.
In the end, the issues will be settled behind closed doors at the negotiating table. But the side that can draw the most public support generally wins the most concessions. Ownership has made its play. Time to watch the players respond.