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18-games…and Judge Doty’s courtroom…are the final bargaining chips…

From this current state of “suspended animation”, NFL fans can take heart: a deal will get done through negotiation, and not litigation.

As surmised in our earlier article “Breakthrough”, the facts that Judge Doty oversees this case, and he has already declared the network TV money owed to the owners for 2011-2012 “out of bounds” and “frozen”, make it evident that the tide has turned in favor of the Players’ union.

The owners know it. They have agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement another week mostly for the benefit of collecting their breath…

A deal will get done, sooner than later.

The posturing behind how to divide $9.3 billion in 2011 revenue will be the easiest part.  Either go before Judge Doty, who will simply rule to split the 60-40 Players-Owners difference at 55-45…or agree on a 56-44 split. Both sides can claim a victory there if they mutually agree on a 56-44.

The rookie wage scale? Not a big deal…of course there should be union-owner agreement on the mininum…but considering the average NFL career is only 3.4 years, Judge Doty would surely rule that the reasonable outcome is: a rookie and his agent can negotiate any wage they feel an owner is willing to pay…Sounds fair to me. Uphold the minimum, but the sky’s the limit for a rookie to negotiate…

Medical insurance available to post-career veterans? Another no-brainer…the owners can and should offer a co-pay program unilaterally to all NFL veterans.  It’s the right thing to do…and a special hardship fund could be created, co-funded by both the Players’ union and the owners, to provide aid to old-timers who are in the throes of medical disability.  Throw out the relationship of their diabilities to the circumstantial fact that they played football in the NFL…just take care of them. If you both can embrace that commitment, then both the Players’ union and the owners would be celebrated as national heroes. If you can’t both embrace that concept, then Judge Doty is likely to rule one or both of you do it anyway.

Now, we arrive at the real thorn in the saddle: the proposed 18-game schedule…

Even Judge Doty, who routinely for the past 20 years has ruled in favor of the Players, may constitutionally concede that it is the owners’ right to declare how many games define a season.

Even the Players’ union knows this… the Boss can set the schedule.

Which means, the schedule is the final and most important bargaining point.

The Players’ union argues that it’s already a year-round season, what with mini-camps, OTA’s, training camp and six pre-season games…

But the owners need to keep the whole thing out of Judge Doty’s courtroom… So the owners must propose an alternative for more revenue-generating games without prolonging the current season length…or creating the appearance of over-exposing the players to random and unnecessary injury.

So I feel the owners will make the eventual and tie-breaking concession on the proposed 18-game schedule….and the Players’  union will be wise to go along with it.

It will entail both sides giving a little to get a lot…mainly, the owners will throw out the 18-game regular season demand, but will compromise to the tune of an expanded playoff picture… maybe 16 teams will get to the playoffs, instead of the traditional 12.  Or, at the very least, the preseason schedule is cut from 6 to 5 games, and an extra 17th game is thrown into the regular season mix.

Anyway you look at it,  the 18-game proposal is the monkey-wrench in the attainment of an out-of-court settlement.  But it’s so do-able if both sides perceive they are getting equal value for equivalent concessions granted.

The owners have to know, if it’s left up to Judge Doty, the current 16-game format will be conserved as the status quo.  The Players’ union needs to understand it can avoid further litigation and possible loss of jobs and income from a lockout by agreeing to a slightly extended schedule that makes sense to football players. For instance, limitations could be agreed upon regarding the mandatory attendance of mini-camps and OTA’s….there’s a lot of bargaining room on that issue.  And if it’s the ultimate key to the castle, and the final obstacle to remaining employed as an NFL player, and if they already gave me as a player other points that Judge Doty would have insisted the owners give me anyway, I would gladly compromise on the issue of expanded schedule…whether it meant a shorter pre-season, or a possibly longer playoff venue, I would give the owners one extra game… one extra game of pure extra revenue…and avoiding further litigation in Judge Doty’s court, we would sail on together from there…

That’s the NFL’s state of “suspended animation” as I see it now… Players’ union has the edge, and they have a good ally in Judge Doty….but the union needs to step up and close the deal with a concession to an extra game (or two) in the regular schedule, with an eye out for decreasing players’ exposure to injury and fatigue by somehow lessening exposure in the preseason and offseason activities….or expanding several teams’ possibilties each season to participate in the playoffs.