Washington, D.C. – There was a decidedly different tone to negotiations between the NFL and the league’s players union this morning, as a cadre of influential owners rounded the corner of K St. and 22nd heading for the offices of a federal mediator overseeing the talks.
The entire 10-member executive committee of the NFL’s negotiating team strode purposefully to the building where talks continued for a ninth day in front of mediator George Cohen. Jerry Jones of the Cowboys. Pat Bowlen of the Broncos. John Mara of the Giants. Robert Kraft of the Patriots. Jerry Richardson of the Panthers. And, of course, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who hasn’t missed a negotiating session.
With tomorrow night’s 11:59 p.m. expiration of the collective bargaining agreement looming, the talks took on a far more serious tone with the ownership group showing up in full force. Now the question is: Will there be more meaningful dialogue that can close the sizeable gaps that remain on all the key issues? Or was today’s show just window dressing on what could be the league’s first work stoppage since the 1987 season?
We’ll soon find out.
“As you know, we have a league [owners] meeting [in northern Virginia later today], so we decided it would be a good idea for the full committee to meet with the mediator this morning,” said Richardson. “The objective is to negotiate a fair agreement for the players and the teams, and so far, obviously, we haven’t been successful. But we’re optimistic in due time we will.”
The meeting comes a day after federal judge David Doty handed down a favorable ruling for the NFLPA by overruling special master Stephen Burbank’s earlier decision to allow the owners to keep more than $4 billion in television revenues for the 2011 season, regardless of whether games are played. The NFL has threatened to impose a lockout if no CBA agreement is reached.
Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief negotiator, insisted today’s decision to have the executive committee attend the negotiations wasn’t a reaction to the ruling.
“It doesn’t change the dynamic for us at all,” Pash said. “We’ve been clear all along it’s a loan, not a payment. The decision frankly was not unexpected, so it doesn’t alter our planning one iota.”
Pash said it was possible the league and NFLPA could decide to push back tomorrow night’s deadline if there is sufficient progress.
“You keep negotiating until you reach agreement,” he said. “We’ve said [extending the expiration] was an option. We’re not taking that off the table.”