The Process Continues

With the inexorable march of time continuing through the negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA, I constantly am asked the questions: “Are they close?” and “What is going on in there?”

ICONKevin Mawae is part of the talks.

Talks lasted deep into the night at a Manhattan law office last night (first-year associates there looked up from their books and said, “Welcome to our world.”)

While the details are certainly kept quiet, here are some things that are happening:

  • Tuesday and Wednesday were productive days between NFL and NFLPA officials and lawyers as they hammered out potential language and frameworks for a potential deal. When the two sides do reach a final agreement on this deal, there will be a lot to put into motion, as Brady v. NFL will need to be settled and the NFLPA re-formed as a union. Having language and mechanics of the deal in place will be key, especially since the Owners would like to have the full CBA document ready and available for teams’ use as early as possible.
  • Thursday was certainly a long day with some progress, though not the progress we are all hoping for. I was told things like “There’s still a lot of work to do” and “Things are OK, not great.” Although the sides were in the building together for 12 hours, a good amount of that time was spent caucusing among their respective group rather than meeting with the opposing side. We’ll see what Friday brings.
  • The sides are discussing an elongated CBA to last up to ten years. That is good news for all, as we will not be dealing with these labor pains again for quite a while.
  • The big issue – how to split $9.3 billion in revenue presently and many more future billions – is moving towards resolution, as the Players’ request for simplification of the system appears to be on track. While we don’t know the exact percentages, the percentages appear to be taken from the entire pot of revenue without setoffs and credits taken off the top. Simply put, the Players are adamant about not taking less than they received in the last year of the Cap -- 2009 -- or about $4.65 billion.
  • Although both sides agree that rookies at the top of the Draft will be the sacrificial lambs of this deal, there is considerable wrangling over the details of rookie pay. Rounds 2-7 are not the issue; the first round is. Owners want five-year deals and little negotiation or guarantees; Players want four-year deals with negotiation of upside and at least injury guarantees. We'll see.
  • The Owners’ continue in their quest to have a couple of Right of First Refusals (ROFR) on the upcoming group of free agents. This, of course, is resisted mightily by the Players, especially after the Owners had that right on hundreds of players in 2010 due to the uncapped year and no free agency for players in their fourth and fifth years. Of course, things could change if the Owners “buy” that right with a concession elsewhere. Everything right now, of course, is negotiable.
  • The Owners’ demand that there be no judicial oversight in the next CBA – as there was in the past one from Judge Doty – appears to be acceptable. I wouldn’t be surprised if mediator Arthur Boylan has a continuing role as a potential arbitrator under the new system.
  • The battle over how much money goes to retired players and from what source continues. Everyone agrees that former players should receive more than they do, and future former players (current players) should receive more than they do, but as before, the devil’s in the details.

I know I sound like a broken record, but always remember: (1) this is a negotiation, nothing more, nothing less; and (2) nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, meaning that everything is still on the table.

Does optimism still reign and hope still float? Yes, as long as we trust the process and the people involved. Economic harm – the great motivator – is looming for both sides, with the July 15th date – one week from today – becoming increasingly important to set off a chain of events for a full 2011 preseason and season.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

UPDATE: The 8th Circuit has ruled for the Owners once again. With a 2-1 margin, the Court has found that the Owners' labor tool of a lockout is legal and viable and that Judge Nelson erred by not having an evidentiary hearing on the issue of irreparable harm to players, specifically free agents.

The ruling has some balance. Although it allowed the lockout to stand, it did not express an opinion on the length of the labor exemption and the underlying case of Brady v. NFL, which can proceed.

This ruling was certainly expected but the timing is surprising, especially with the sides in advanced negotiations towards a CBA. Will this affect/derail the process? We will see, but the hope is that the Owners do not use this leverage tilt as a hammer to forge more concessions from the Players.

More to come...

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