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NFL labor reset

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  July 5, 2011 11:13 AM

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Today is the 115th day of the NFL lockout and we have entered into a crucial stretch. Here’s an update on where we are:

Talks between the NFL and the Players' Association resumed this morning in New York. ESPN reported the first two days of talks will only consist of the lawyers from each side as they work on the language for a potential deal. This is just part of the process, not any indication of an impending deal. Both sets of negotiating teams, featuring owners and players, will re-enter the picture Thursday, if not sooner.

How close are they to a deal?

Reasonably close considering the compressed timeframe and certainly a lot closer than they were about a month ago. There has been much progress made on the big issue, which is the revenue split. There is work to be done on rookie cap and how the savings would be used, and other issues but those are minor compared to the revenue split.

Is there something that could blow up the talks?

Of course. The owners are afraid of the union lawyers, most notably Jeff Kessler. The players are suspicious that the owners will do some bait and switch. And the New York Times reported the class of retired players have filed a class-action complaint against both the owners and players saying they have been excluded from the process of settlement. If the judge agrees, that would complicate things. Fans who want football on time at any cost won’t be happy about retired players sticking their noses in, but they are right to. If we’ve learned anything from the past, it’s that NFL owners don’t really care about retired players and current players will sell out their predecessors to get a deal done in the present. There are also two court decisions – the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the television rights case – hanging over everyone’s head.

When can we expect a deal?

It would be nice if it came this week. It could happen, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The internal deadline for both parties is July 15, and these guys rarely do anything unless their backs are against the wall.

What is affected by the time frame?

The preseason and the truckload of money it produces. If July 15 is the deadline, then you would expect the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game against the Bears and Rams to be sacrificed. That’s not much of a moneymaker for the league. The Bears and Rams are set to start training camp July 22. That would almost be impossible if July 15 is the day an agreement is reached. You’re going to need 5-10 days for the settlement to be voted on by each party, each of the lawsuits to be settled by the judges, the NFLPA to reconstitute as a union, for the new collective bargaining agreement to be put into writing and voted upon and for NFL front offices to study the new collective bargaining agreement and get their ducks in a row. Then another 7-10 days for free agency/draft picks to be signed. That would bring us near the end of July. The Patriots were due to start training camp July 28 in advance of the Aug. 11 preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In that time frame, training camp would likely be shortened by a few days.

What happens if an agreement doesn’t come by July 15?

Then each passing day puts preseason games in danger, which would mean lost revenue and would complicate a deal even further. Once real money starts being lost then it will be harder for both sides to reach an agreement on the revenue split. Remember, the league has built in some wiggle room into the schedule if this goes on for a while – all the way to a 14-game season if need be. Under that scenario, the Patriots would open the season at home against the Jets Oct. 9, with the Chargers (home) and Raiders (away) games being sacrificed (the Dolphins and Bills games would be moved to later in the season). But short of the season being wiped out, that’s the worst-case scenario. Let’s hope they strike a deal in the next two weeks and we can forget this ever happened. As it stands now, the Patriots are scheduled to open the regular season Sept. 12 at Miami.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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