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Posted at 6:18 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

NFL, NFL Players Association return to talks with Friday deadline

By Cindy Boren

From the sound of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's tweet, a weekend away from the NFL's labor troubles was probably a good idea.

We are taking a weekend rest so we don't get CBA fever and start babbling cap dialects incoherently and see the ghost of Halas transfixedless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Now, though, NFL and NFL Players Association representatives will return to the office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, D.C., this afternoon and try to reach an agreement before the new 11:59 p.m. Friday deadline.

The possibilities remain what they were a week ago: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith could agree to another deadline extension if there's progress; the NFL could lock out players; the NFLPA could decertify and file an injunction with Judge David Doty's court asking to stop the lockout.

According to one report Sunday, the two sides made more progress last week than they did in the previous two years, so perhaps the idea of compromise isn't dead after all.

But talks like these are filled with make-or-break moments. There was at least one last week, when decertification very, very nearly came about, according to a behind-the-scenes account by Jim Trotter of SI.com. It involved one of those throat-slashing gestures.

With only five minutes to go before the union's deadline to decertify last Thursday -- a move that might have obliterated the NFL as we know it today -- a player walked into the negotiating room that included commissioner Roger Goodell, league attorney Jeff Pash, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and union president Kevin Mawae and declared: "We're done! We're decertifying."
It had been three years since the league announced its intentions to void the current labor pact, yet 66 formal negotiating sessions had failed to bring the sides significantly closer. And as the decertification deadline ticked closer, members of the union's executive committee began to feel the owners were stringing them along in hopes that the players would miss the deadline. The players believed their only real leverage was to decertify because it would allow the players to sue the league for alleged antitrust violations if the owners locked them out, as expected. With the window to file closing fast, union officials and executive committee members sat in a room one floor beneath where the power brokers were meeting and weighed their options one last time. Then they decided it was time to act.
At that point the aforementioned player -- whose name is being withheld because of the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations -- walked into the room upstairs, tapped Mawae on the shoulder and made a quick hand-across-the-throat gesture while making his decertification declaration.
"I don't know that guys were itching for a fight, but we have been preparing for this so we're not at all nervous about pulling the trigger or stepping into that world," says one player familiar with the negotiations. "We all agree that if we can get a deal done that is fair, then it's best to do it between the two sides. But we're prepared to do it through the courts if we have to. We've been stalled by them for so long. For two years they've been jerking us around, to be honest with you. On Wednesday their owners came to a meeting and said they were going to go to Dulles and have another meeting among themselves, then we would get back together that night to discuss things. Then they all got on planes and all went home and didn't tell us anything. They left us sitting in the mediation room for the second time.''

As Trotter points out, the NFL sees it differently (An NFL source, Trotter writes, said the owners have been "fully engaged and fully responsive for almost two years" and have made "numerous proposals and counterproposals."), which is where George Cohen, the federal mediator steps in.

For the whole story, go to Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column. He'll also tell you why parties in labor negotiations, like MLS, swear by Cohen.

Meanwhile, 3-11-11 approaches. If you don't think it's that big a deal, that the deadline can always be extended again and again, listen to the wise Mr. King:

We are 185 days away from the scheduled Sept. 8 opening game of the NFL season, at Green Bay. Six months from tomorrow.
When I pointed that out to a lawyer friend over the weekend, he said, "That sounds like plenty of time to get to court and get a resolution so the league won't miss any games. Not so. When you start to get into the federal court system, everybody thinks their case is the most important one in the system. If the players sue to try to overturn the league's antitrust exemption, I bet the decision will take months. Not just the original decision, but the appeal in front of a three-judge panel. That could take two or three months. I could see each side not wanting to go to court. Could the players stay solid losing paychecks in the millions while some court case very few of them will take the time to understand is argued?''
And, I said, could the owners stay solid knowing they'd be taking not only a multi-billion-dollar financial hit, but also knowing there was no way they would win the PR battle either?
This week, and perhaps one more extension after this, is vitally important.

By Cindy Boren  | March 7, 2011; 6:18 AM ET
Categories:  NFL  
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Comments

I hope the NFL shuts down for a couple years and takes the NBA with them.

Posted by: jeadpt | March 7, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

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