When is a done deal not a done deal? When it's an uneasy alliance between the NFL and its players, who can't reach a final accord without some last-minute discord. They agree to disagree on whether they have reached an agreement.
If you ask the NFL owners, who approved a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday during their meeting in Atlanta, then labor peace has been reached in our time and thru the 2020 season. Training camps will open next Wednesday, and it's game on.
Not so fast. The erstwhile NFL Players Association, which decertified as part of the labor sparring, says the owners have an agreement all right -- among themselves. And that's it. The NFLPA has yet to vote on and ratify the proposal. They didn't do it Thursday, and were not expected to do it today, so the lockout, the scourge of football fans across America, lives on.
"Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification," said NFLPA president Kevin Mawae in a statement today. "There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft."
The whole situation is like a "Saturday Night Live" skit, except it's not funny for millions of football-adoring fans who simply want a resolution to the long-running labor dispute, which has reached Day 133. Here is the deal: The NFL's New Deal is a good deal for the players, and they should make like Tom Brady and pass.
They'll never be confused with the omnipotent Major League Baseball Players Association, and they still have the least guaranteed contracts and the most dangerous jobs among the Big Four professional sports, but the NFLPA served its members well in this dispute.
The players might not like that the owners backed them into a CBA corner, and they certainly should check the fine print for any last-minute landmines. But by Monday morning the Great Lockout of 2011, which has become the debt ceiling debate of professional sports, should be over.
The longer they stall on ratification the more it raises the ire of the football public, which doesn't really care which side "won" the labor dispute because fans lost -- a normal NFL off-season and patience with both sides.
A lot of people thought the players were going to get routed like a 2007 Patriots' opponent in this labor dispute, but executive director DeMaurice Smith got his constituents some landmark health and safety gains while surrendering less money to the owners than initially expected.
The owners entered these negotiations shaking their tin cups for an extra $1 billion and asking for an 18-game season. They got neither.
According to estimates, the players surrendered about $200 million of revenue per year to the owners, a fifth of the original asking price, and the players got fail-safes that ensure their percentage of "all revenue" can't dip below 47 percent during the deal. An 18-game season can't be enacted until 2013, and it can't happen without the players' consent.
Meanwhile, the players got some significant workplace changes. Two-a-day practices in training camp are going the way of leather helmets and the single-bar facemask. There will be a reduction in off-season team activities (OTAs) from 14 to 10, and in a move that is sure to rankle Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a limit on the number of padded practices coaches can have during the regular season. His Hoodiness can only put his team in pads once a week, and during the final five weeks of the season he can only put them in pads in three of those weeks.
Somewhere Ted Johnson is smiling.
In addition, players now have the option of NFL health care coverage for life and up to $1.5 million of post-injury salary guarantees. They gave in on a sensible rookie salary structure, which the NBA and NHL already have. But got a raise in the minimum salary and the condition that the NFL must cash spend to 99 percent of the salary cap this year and next and 95 percent after that.
There are still outstanding issues with league discipline (Iron Roger Goodell has rankled players with his heavy-handed dispensing of discipline), drug testing, the anti-trust suit that counts Patriots players Brady and Logan Mankins among its 10 plaintiffs, workman's compensation and whether future labor disputes between the sides will be subject to the judicial system or before an arbitrator.
That last one is big because the NFL has a record like the 2008 Detroit Lions in court.
But the court of public opinion says this deal should be done. For much of this CBA negotiation, the owners have been portrayed as the antagonists. It's hard to bemoan the state of your business when Forbes lists the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world and all 32 of your teams are on the list.
Now, the players are feeling the wrath of the public. Their own pre-lockout slogan is coming back to haunt them -- "Let us play." The owners may have initiated the lockout, but it's the players who are keeping the doors from reopening right now.
Fans don't won't to hear about last-minute snags and legal posturing for future disputes. They don't want to hear Mawae say that they're not on the same timeline as the owners.
Actually, they are because they're on the same money line as the owners, and if a part of the $800-million preseason is lost then the deal could get blown up and real games along with it. If that happens, the players are not going to get a better deal than this one.
It's time to put the labor unrest to rest. Here's hoping the plume of white smoke goes up from NFLPA headquarters, so we can all get on with our lives.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.