Beginning tomorrow morning, and hopefully continuing for most of the week, NFL owners will meet in Chicago with NFL representatives to discuss, among other things, a general outline for a possible revenue agreement with league players. In the 100-plus days since the beginning of the work stoppage, in the dozens of meetings and court cases and lawsuits and appeals and personal attacks in the media, there has never been a more critical moment. Make no mistake; what happens this week in Chicago will ultimately decide, one way or the other, if there will be football in 2011.
If the talks break down – if two or more of the owners decide they don’t agree with the general outline or are unwilling to give any more in the way of compensation and bonuses than they’ve previously agreed to in prior proposals – there simply won’t be enough time to try again from the beginning. The illusion of a September start date will shatter completely, and instead of wondering – as we are now – if there will be training camp or a preseason, we’ll instead start wondering how many games we might be able salvage, and how far into the fall we can go before calling off the season completely.
In short, the less time owners spend talking this week, the less chance we have of seeing a 2011 season. If the meeting ends Tuesday evening, you can cancel that order for your Fantasy Football draft board. Get a refund for your season tickets and pick out a hockey team to root for. No dice. Thanks for playing.
If, however, the owners elect to stay overnight and continue on Wednesday, then Thursday, maybe even Friday, you can breathe a sigh of relief. At least for the moment. That would mean the owners have moved past the major issues – gross revenue percentages and labor costs – and moved on to specifics and some of the smaller issues, like a rookie wage scale and benefits for retired players. All of these issues will need to at least be discussed before any meaningful talks can continue with the players.
If the meeting ends tomorrow, it means that even between themselves the owners couldn’t agree on the big stuff, and the odds of them coming to terms with player reps sometime in early July will drop close to nil, regardless of what they may tell the press. And early July is necessary, of course, because after the owners come to terms they still need to reopen negotiations with the players, come to an agreement, then have each respective legal time dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s before the deal can finally be signed and put into effect. And the only way that will happen is if owners approach this week’s meeting as if it were the point of no return. And believe me, it is.
This may be one of the final opportunities for all 32 owners to meet together at the same time. It’s vital that all 32 men find a common voice, not just on the major issues but on every issue. They need backup plans and bottom lines, things they’re willing to bend on and things they know they can’t do without. They need to be prepared, in short, for anything that could happen at the negotiating table, and there’s no way that can be achieved in one eight-hour meeting.
More so than anything else, the biggest issue this week will be how seriously the owners take these talks. Are they still in the March/April mindset, when beating the players – either in court or through negotiations – was the end-all be-all? Or have they finally realized how close they are to the precipice, how quickly they can go from losing an extra $500 million at the bargaining table to losing $5 billion due to a lost season? The answers will come tomorrow, and I for one am nervous as hell.