The owners meetings in Orlando have and will continue to display a front of complete solidarity in their position to change the economics of the NFL. Monday featured an impassioned plea from highly respected Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson for the group to stay united in the battle for a new economic system with the players.

All owners are toeing the party line that the deal they overwhelmingly approved 30-2 four short years ago is unworkable. They now realize the folly of their decision to slide the Collective Bargaining Agreement through in March 2006 and reward the players with 59 percent of total football revenues (TFR) and are seeking relief from that deal in a new CBA.

“Roger’s our guy”

This NFL meeting is also an affirmation of confidence in their leader, Commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell received a contract extension from ownership a couple of months ago, even though his deal was not set to expire until September 2011. The message of that extension was meant for the NFL Players Association as much as the NFL, saying: We need a new deal, and Roger’s the guy to get it done.

And what about the guy on the other side of the table?

“De’s our guy”

The NFLPA wrapped up its annual meeting last week in Maui (yes, one group was in Maui and the other is at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando as they fight over $8.5 billion). The player reps listened to and supported their new leader, emboldened by his fervent message about the NFL’s plan to lock out the players in a year. The meeting was notable for several reasons:

(1) It was the first meeting led by new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, elected one year ago at the same gathering of player reps;

(2) It came in the midst of a bargaining process with the NFL, bargaining that has become a bit stale with more rhetoric in the media than active discussion lately;

(3) It came at the start of the first uncapped year in the NFL since 1993, and although there has been some initial spending, there’s no movement yet on 212 players who would have been free to negotiate with all teams as unrestricted free agents in the previous capped system.

“Knocked our socks off”

A year ago, Smith, a relative unknown to the players compared to the other candidates, “knocked our socks off,” as one player rep told me about his presentation as an under-the-radar candidate. Most of the attention prior to the meeting had been on two former players with strong backgrounds in NFLPA matters, Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent (now an NFL employee). While those two made presentations that appealed to the players in each of the voting blocs, they also may have cancelled each other out when it came time to vote.

Smith, a compelling speaker with a background at the powerful Washington D.C. law firm of Patton, Boggs, used an impressive PowerPoint presentation that featured his connections to seats of power in law and government -- including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and, of course, the largest power source in the free world, President Barack Obama. The player reps, bowled over by the level of contact that Smith could provide, elected him on the first ballot.

Now the major protagonists for this negotiation are set. Goodell has been commissioner for three years, with another five set on his contract. Smith has been on the job one year and already is in the midst of the fight of his life.

Careful what you wish for

As Smith has found out, getting elected was the easy part. He now deals with an intransigent ownership group committed on forging a new relationship with the NFLPA that more accurately reflects the business world of today as opposed to 2006. Smith faces a group intent on rolling back a deal that it approved by an overwhelming margin four years ago.

Smith has a tough job. He is merely trying to protect what he has, and that’s a challenge. The owners are requesting/demanding collective sacrifice for the cost of doing business in the NFL today. And they are requesting that sacrifice without showing detailed accounting of individual teams’ finances, left to rely on collective numbers from the NFL about league-wide costs and player revenues.

Smith has an engaging and likeable personality. He needs to use that to engage Goodell as well as owners like Richardson. People like doing business with people they like.

I’ll offer more ideas tomorrow about what can be done.

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