The NFL and the NFLPA have been negotiating without attorneys for the past few days and there seems to be a glimmer of hope that a new labor deal could be reached in the upcoming weeks. Both sides know that they are playing a high risk game of chicken by using the court system to settle their dispute but also an even riskier game of losing fans for the foreseeable future.
The NFL has said all along that all they want to do is have a negotiation with the NFLPA without each side's attorneys, while the NFLPA would rather have used the court system. Judge Nelson also moved the hearing for the NFL's motion to dismiss the "Tom Brady" case from September 12 to August 29.
That really isn't as important as the Eighth Circuit Court's Judge Kermit Bye made the other day when he said that the ruling will come in “due course” and that would be one “neither side would like.”
“Both sides feel the pressure now,” another league source told NFL.com's Albert Breer. “There’s risk on both sides legally here. Neither side is completely comfortable with its legal position. So it’s imperative to work now before one side or the other potentially gets the upper hand.”
But the owners and NFLPA could have a bigger issue: getting the fans back. Ticket sales are reportedly down and the fan backlash is getting louder and louder each day of the lockout. Fans are tired of the "billionaires vs millionaires" battle and don't want to hear how each side can't find a way to share (or split) $900 million between the two sides. There is still the issue of a rookie salary cap and insurance rights for retired players, amongst others.
Up until recently it seemed that neither side was willing to budge from their demands, but with the threat of the court system not looking good for either side, they decided to have a "secret" meeting in Chicago and have had more meetings since then. The optimism should be at an all-time high since neither side is shooting off at the mouth about the other in a P.R. campaign that only does more harm then good when it come to the fans.
I feel that if there was more of a personal relationship between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith this peeing contest wouldn't have gone on so long. Both men are trying to show that they have the power in this CBA battle.
While Goodell has been more willing to do interviews with the fans (like his interview on Cheesehead TV on the eve of the NFL Draft) and say he is fighting for the best interests of the fans, Smith has seemed unwilling to answer a direct question and when he does he answers it with another question.
The fans, US fans are suffering. By this time we would have a few OTAs, a mini-camp and rookie camp under our belts to help curve our football-starved appetites. But since the players are locked out, we have any of that.
As badly as the fans are wanting the lockout to end, NFL rookies and undrafted rookies are also looking forward to the lockout's end. They can't sign with their respective teams (or any team, if they went undrafted) until it is over and that means can't get paid.
They also can't have contact with their new coaches and will be behind in learning the plays and getting to know their new teammates. Their development will be hindered if the lockout doesn't end soon. Also, second-year players' biggest jump usually happens in their first offseason with their team and they to are being hurt by the lockout.
Even established veterans are feeling the pain of the lockout. Steve Breaston made this lament describing his feelings about the lockout. Other players I talked to have told me that they are just waiting to go back to work and get their lives back to normal. Coaches are also frustrated because they can't communicate with the players and they can't coach them up.
Players and coaches are creatures of habit. They live off a routine and their bodies also know when it is time to "go back to work." Sure, organized team workouts held by players are fine and all, but the quality of play will suffer until coaches get with the players. Players should play and coaches should coach.
The fields and equipment they are using are not the same quality that they are used to. If the lock-out continues and it goes deep into the summer, when the season starts the quality of play will not be the same for a while. The product will suffer and fans won't like it. Not to mention what would happen if a NFL super star tore his knee up during a players organized workout? How would the NFL, the team and the NFLPA handle that?
The risk is too high for all involved. It's time to work day and night until a deal is done. The players should already know that this deal won't be a favorable as the last and the owners need to know that they can't get everything they won't.
Baseball hasn't been the same since their strike and neither has the NHL. The NBA is just getting back the fans that left after Michael Jordan retired and also have labor issues of their own (their CBA is also set to expire and the NBA and NBAPA are meeting daily trying to get a deal done).
While NFL fans are passionate and loyal, at some point we will also get fete up and turn our backs. It's time the NFL's owners and the NFLPA zip up their pants, put away their measuring sticks and get a deal done before it is to late for all involved.