Commentary

Crunch time for players, owners

If preseason is going to be saved, then sides must finalize labor deal by this weekend

Originally Published: July 4, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Being a league that responds to deadlines, the NFL owners need to reach a deal with their players by this Saturday or Sunday in order to save the preseason.

Sure, most camps aren't scheduled to open until the end of the month, but there has to be some breathing room between the time an agreement is reached and the official start of the 2011 season. Too much has to be done in a short period of time, which is why free agency needs to start by July 15 or 17.

Based on some progress made last week in a critical negotiating session in Minneapolis, there is hope heading into this critical week. According to sources, owners and players are getting closer when it comes to agreeing on the division of revenue.

With Chief Magistrate Arthur Boylan stressing urgency in mediation, the percentage of revenues offered by the owners, according to sources, rose to around 46 percent. That's within striking distance.

For sessions that start Tuesday, the committees of negotiators working on major topics such as the rookie wage scale are being called on to resolve their differences. It will be a good week.

At stake for the owners is roughly $700 million of revenue in the preseason. Owners pocket most of that money because players are paid by the week during training camp instead of getting regular game checks.

What owners have to resolve this week is whether this can be a deal they can live with for the next decade or so.

If they can, football might be back by the time of next week's mailbag.

From the inbox

Q: Why don't the Eagles sign Kevin Kolb and trade Michael Vick? Kolb is 26 with no wear and tear and projected by many to be an elite QB for years to come. Vick is 31 with years of wear and tear and plays a style of football prone to injury. Plus, I believe that it can be argued that he played to the very best of his ability last year on the adrenaline that came from realizing it was his last shot. The Eagles had a good season but were knocked out early in the playoffs. I think Vick peaked in 2010 and we saw the best year he will ever have. With Kolb, the Eagles could have a 10-year franchise QB who gives them a shot at the Super Bowl every year. I just don't get why Kolb is as good as gone in everyone's eyes, including the Eagles. Any thoughts?

Tony B. in Lackawanna, N.Y.

A: You raise a great question. The answer is the Eagles believe Vick is the quarterback who can get the Eagles back to the Super Bowl. To put Kolb on the market as they are, you get the feeling that they have questions about Kolb being the quarterback who can get them to the Super Bowl. Andy Reid and his staff believe they can make quarterbacks good, and they can make great quarterbacks elite. Remember how the Falcons traded Matt Schaub to Houston? He is now an elite quarterback, but he hasn't been able to get the Texans over the top. Kolb compares to Schaub, but the Eagles believe in Vick, and based on what we saw last year, they are right.

Q: I just don't buy into the Plaxico Burress-to-a-non-contender talk. While Plaxico might get more money from a non-contender, why would he want Colt McCoy or Kerry Collins throwing to him when he could have (possibly) Michael Vick, Joe Flacco, or even a Manning? From a non-contending team's standpoint, why would you want to sign an older player to a contact when you need to get younger, not older? The only team I've heard that I can agree on is the Rams, simply because if you are in the NFC Worst, you are in the hunt for the division title any given year, and therefore, in contention. Thoughts?

Shane in Los Angeles

A: Burress won't be in the position to be too picky, but he does need to choose the right type of team. He's missed two years of football and is going to be 34 this season. There is no way he can expect to be a 16-game starter. He needs to find a situation in which he's a third or a fourth receiver. That's why I think Philadelphia is a nice fit. He does offer good things to a young quarterback such as McCoy or even a Sam Bradford. If you line him up as a split end on the left side, he offers a big target to help a young quarterback throw to his left. But I agree with you, if he can find a winner, it would be a better situation for him.

Q: Is there any chance at all that the Redskins will go with John Beck as their starter this year? If so, are they aiming to get the No. 1 draft slot for Andrew Luck? Thanks.

Keith in Tennessee

A: Beck is scheduled to be the starter, but not for the purpose of losing. Dan Snyder didn't hire Mike Shanahan to tank a season. He hired Shanahan to win. He's not only paying Shanahan $7 million a year, but Snyder will end up being the biggest spender in free agency. If the Redskins lose this season, there will be a major fallout. People will lose jobs if the Redskins get worse instead of getting better. No doubt, Snyder and Shanahan would love to be in a position to get Luck, but you have to lose about 14 games to be in position for that. That's not the Redskins' plan.

Q: What's to keep Josh Cribbs from being an absolute terror in the West Coast offense for the Browns? It seems like he's an ideal [fit]. He's bigger, stronger and faster than Wes Welker, a guy who was a special-teams ace before the Patriots started using him correctly in the WCO.

Kovacs in Santa Monica, Calif.

A: Cribbs is a great player, but it's hard to envision him as being a monster in the West Coast offense. He's not a pure slot receiver like Welker. He's more a specialty talent much like Reggie Bush. He gets more running plays than he does pass plays. Welker is exceptional out of the slot. Cribbs can line up in the backfield or at wide receiver. He confuses defenses and creates matchup problems. In the end, he may get only about 60 runs or 30 catches in a given season, but he creates excitement and makes great plays.

Q: As great as Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis are, how much of that is the system they play in and the players they have around them? Oakland had a pretty good defense last season and the Jets have one of the best in the NFL. I'm just thinking that if they were in different situations maybe they aren't as big as they are. Look at Dre' Bly, for example; pretty good cover corner with decent ability as a ball hawk who was decent in St. Louis, a Pro Bowler in Detroit, and then went to Denver and was pretty average despite having Champ Bailey on the opposite side of the field. With all the hype that Nnamdi is getting, how smart would it be for him to re-sign in Oakland? And how much should Revis look at his team, and coach, before thinking about ever holding out again?

Gary in Middlebury, Ind.

A: Asomugha and Revis are exceptional talents. In a man-to-man scheme, they close their sides of the field to prevent completions. They are so talented they can be successful in any system -- man-to-man, Cover 2 or Cover 3. Asomugha could re-sign in Oakland, but he wants to move on to a team that has a better chance at the Super Bowl. Al Davis would love to have him back, but it's going to be hard to do after giving Stanford Routt a $31.5 million contract.

Q: The Colts have a lot of offseason decisions to make when it comes to deciding whether or not to re-sign key players. Peyton Manning will most certainly be signed, but Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, and Robert Mathis are all longtime Colts who are free agents. Do the Colts have the money to sign all four or do you even think they should?

Kyle in Indianapolis

A: You get the feeling they will lose Mathis in another year. That's one of the reasons they drafted Jerry Hughes in the first round last season. If the price is right, I think they can get Addai back. Like they did with Marvin Harrison, I think they will do everything possible to keep Wayne. The Colts realize they have a five- or six-year window to win Super Bowl rings with Manning. They will do everything possible to keep as much of the team together as they can.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireIf the Dolphins want to create a buzz, signing Vince Young would be the way to go.

Q: All of the talk surrounding Vince Young to the Dolphins has led me to believe that VY IS headed to Miami. However, all of the analysts argue this fact on the premises that it "makes sense" and "he's a perfect fit." The same kind of talk surrounded Mark Ingram and Ryan Mallett during the draft -- and we ended up taking a center. Do you think the Dolphins are seriously considering adding VY, or will they continue to be underwhelming and bring in a guy like Matt Moore?

Raus in Brooklyn

A: Moore wouldn't create much of a buzz. Signing Young should. The talent difference between Young and Moore is vast. Young has been a winner in Tennessee. Moore is still learning the quarterback position. It's hard to think any quarterback coming into Miami could beat out Chad Henne without being in OTAs or in any part of the offseason program. If that's the case, it's better having the more talented quarterback being on the bench waiting for the chance. Young is the better talent and he fits the Dolphins' running style of offense. Sign him.

Q: I'm a big Steve Slaton fan. With Houston loaded at running back, do you think they will trade him? If so, where do you see him going? I know he's fumble prone, but on any play he can break a big one just like Barry Sanders used to do. What team would be a perfect fit for him?

Aaron in Naoma, W.Va.

A: I like Slaton, too. He needs a fresh start. Clearly, he won't get much playing time being behind Arian Foster. But the league is so saturated with good backs, it's going to be hard for the Texans to get proper trade value. In a normal year, he could be worth a third-round pick. I think it would be lucky for the Texans to get better than a fifth- or a sixth-rounder, and if that's the case, it's better to keep him.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer