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Optimism makes its way back into CBA discussion

As talks have intensified in the past few months on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the outlook on the result has ranged from each end of the pessimism and optimism scale. Just last week, the doom and gloom seemed to be at an all-time high. But recent developments have turned the tide back to the positive.

The NFL and NFLPA labor negotiations have been on-going in some capacity over the past two years, but have heated up considerably since the offseason and the looming possibility of a lockout scenario with no football being played in 2011.

Early in this process I thought it best to take a more patient approach to the whole situation. I knew from the beginning that situations like this never move toward any kind of conclusion until the proverbial 11th hour.

Two weeks ago, when asked where I stood on how things would work out, I was optimistic — even when many people were not. I compared it to what happened in Congress at the end of 2010.

The situation with Congress was that several Democrats were being replaced by Republicans and there would be a new majority. This brought a sudden sense of urgency for the Dems who had several bills they wanted to get passed but they knew that once the Republicans took over, the bills would not go through.

The Republicans preferred response was, “No compromise!” — which if you have been following the CBA negotiations, has been the NFL’s stance as well. In the end, the Republicans did compromise. They wanted the Bush tax cuts to pass before they expired at the end of the year so they said, “you approve our bill and we’ll approve yours.” And just before the New Year rang in, everyone got what they wanted.

That’s why I was optimistic. Things rarely get done at high levels without a deadline.

That is also the reason why my optimism changed to pessimism last week when there was talk of extending the deadline. When you move the deadline, you go back to the stalemate of posturing, grandstanding, and walking out of discussions because you have the luxury of time. The same reason why after two years of knowing this problem would need to be dealt with, nothing moved until the last couple of weeks.

Then something happened.

US District Court Judge David Doty ruled that the NFL would not be able to collect on $4 billion in television revenue during a lockout. The owners were counting on that revenue as a parachute. They believed they had the upper hand in their negotiations with the Players’ Association because while the players had to save their money and purchase outside insurance during the lockout, the owners still had those big money TV contracts paying out.

The instant that ruling came down, the owners started scrambling to find the areas where they could compromise. At the same time, the NFLPA was gearing up to decertify and begin lawsuits against the NFL if there wasn’t some sort of progress made before the initial deadline.

And just hours before the witching hour, the owners came through with a proposal. We don’t know for certain what the proposal was but it was positive and the players were listening. It led to a 24 hour extension to look into the matter further.

I was still pessimistic until the moment the players responded positively to the owner’s proposal. A seven day extension has been added to the deadline and the tenor of the discussion is quite different from both the NFL and the NFLPA. Here is what Goodell had to say about it:

“We believe that, as I’ve said many times before, that this will be solved through negotiations. And that’s what we’re focused on.  So we’ll continue to work hard… we’ve continued to work hard. I think the fact that we are continuing this dialogue is a positive sign… As I’ve repeated over and over again, this is going to get resolved through negotiations. Not through litigation. So talking is better than litigating.”

Goodell’s remarks were echoed and expanded upon by NFL Vice President Jeff Pash:

“I think we are at a stage where the issues have been joined, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion, it’s time for us really to dig, to dig deep, and try to find solutions and try to be creative and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody.

“The Commissioner has been very clear. If both sides give a little, everyone can gain a lot. And that’s what we have to try to do next week. It’s a challenge, we’ve got very serious issues, we’ve got significant differences.  But we are committed to collective bargaining. All over this country, collective bargaining is being challenged. We’re committed to it. We believe it can work.  It has worked. We believe it will work.

“We’re talking. That’s the most important thing. And that’s a reason for optimism. Talking is better than litigating. Talking is better than walking away. Let’s stay at that. That’s where we are.

“There’s been enough serious discussion to warrant both sides taking this step. And the mediators felt it and that’s why they requested it of us. If they believe that we are in a position where we can make progress and get to an agreement, then I think it’s incumbent upon us and our ownership feels it’s incumbent to make that effort.

“Should [the fans] be optimistic? They know we’re talking. They know we’re working hard. I think that should be a positive.

“Someone said the easy and quick answer is no. The longer answer is maybe. And the still longer answer sometimes is yes. [The mediators] encourage you to keep at it, to think about it, to look at alternatives. And I think they’ve done a fantastic job.”

For football fans, there were a lot of words in those statements that is music to our ears. Words like “progress, compromise, positive” and “optimistic.” And there is reason to believe a multiyear settlement can be reached without any additional extensions past March 11.

The main reason for thinking another extension may not happen is the upcoming draft. Sure it is a month and a half away, but teams would very much like to get the free agency period out of the way prior to the draft. The owners do not want to go into the draft without knowing which players are staying, going, or incoming. Some free agent moves happen quickly but most take some time.

The owners are also expected to get back into the discussions next week which is a very good sign. When things were not going well, they were snippy and walking out of meetings. There is no time for any of that now — not when there is this much money on the line.

Credit goes to Commissioner Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith for keeping everyone on point and genuinely seeking a compromise. This could go down as the finest hour for both of them and shape their respective careers.

What it comes down to is neither side wants a lockout. Now we have both sides making concessions to ensure there will be very little interruption to the football offseason, let alone the regular season. So since the wheels are turning, the show is officially on the road.

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