Key owners' meeting begins Tuesday
CHICAGO -- One day of owners' meetings could turn into two. Whether that's a sign of progress toward the end of the lockout and labor peace is debatable.
NFL owners will gather Tuesday, and perhaps into Wednesday, to discuss the status of negotiations with the players for a new collective bargaining agreement. This is the first meeting called by the league strictly for labor matters, and the 32 team owners and representatives who will be on hand were advised last week to prepare to stay an extra day.
That's how complex -- and perhaps contentious -- some of the issues are.
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A handful of NFL owners -- at least two of whom are from AFC teams -- believes the parameters of the deal being discussed don't adequately address the original issues the league wanted corrected from the 2006 collective bargaining agreement, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
It is one of the primary reasons team officials are being prepped to stay an extra night in Chicago. It's not to potentially vote on a new CBA, as many suspected; it actually is to try to fend off some of the resistance that is mounting, according to sources.
In reality, the resistance has been there since March, when commissioner Roger Goodell was authorized in a vote of the owners to offer and negotiate whatever he thought was best for the league.
After the players decertified, owners were briefed on Goodell's offer, and some believed it was too one-sided in favor of the players and not strong enough for the teams. Those teams never changed their feelings, and recently they have made this known directly to Goodell, according to a source.
Now that the two sides have begun to make some significant strides within the past week, some owners are pushing back against the deal again, according to sources.
This subplot comes at a time when the NFL and NFL Players Association have made considerable progress, much of it on broad-picture items. The two sides, according to a source, have agreed to an unofficial timeline as to how events such as training camp and free agency would play out if there is an agreement on the more significant elements of the deal.
Each side is eager to get something done before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis rules on the league's request to permanently block an injunction that originally lifted the lockout. That injunction had been on hold while the three-man appeals panel considers the case, but one of the judges warned the owners and players they both wouldn't like the decision.
Fearful of a ruling in which both sides lose -- for example, the lockout could be allowed to continue, but only until it reaches six months, which would be four days after the regular season opens -- Goodell, lead negotiator Jeff Pash and a handful of owners have met with Smith and a group of players over the past three weeks. Out of those talks has come word of movement and an atmosphere of cooperation, a far cry from the rhetoric and court actions of the previous months.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has said a deal needs to be in place by July 4 in order to have a normal training camp and preseason. The Minnesota Vikings announced they could wait until July 18 to determine if they will hold any of their training camp in Mankato, as they usually do, but that certainly is cutting things close.
No talks with the players are scheduled until after the Chicago owners' meeting. Instead, the owners will be briefed on recent negotiations, including such topics as prospective salary caps; a rookie wage scale; free agency requirements; health benefits; and, most significantly, how much revenue from the $9.3 billion business they are willing to share with the players.
Of chief concern on the owners' side could be keeping a united front if some teams, particularly the lower-revenue or small-market franchises, are not satisfied with the numbers presented in Chicago.
The first preseason game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is scheduled for Aug. 7. That makes these meetings, over 24 hours or more, critical in the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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