Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among the 12 attendees this week at a secret set of discussions between the NFL and the players. And these talks are a great sign that the two sides are working together to reach a settlement to end the lockout.
The discussions are extremely complicated and could last quite some time, but it's an obvious indication that the two sides are dedicated to resolving the work stoppage. The labor dispute has been tangled up in the court system for three months, and these recent discussions, which began last week in the Chicago area and have reportedly since moved to New York, are taking place at the tail end of the injunction process.
The discussions could be taking place under the guise that it's best for both sides to lay the groundwork for a new collective bargaining agreement before the Eighth Circuit rules on the owners' appeal to keep the lockout intact. After that ruling, one of the sides will have a distinct amount of leverage with the negotiations, and that fact could disturb the tenor of the discussions between the players and owners.
The NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement about the discussions, simply saying, "NFL owners and players have engaged in further confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge [Arthur] Boylan this week. Those discussions will continue."
Boylan led an initial round of court-mandated mediation sessions in Minnesota, but these discussions were not ordered by the court. Since they're taking place under Boylan, though, it's a sign of a concession from the owners, who wanted to return to mediation under George Cohen in Washington, D.C.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined Kraft and fellow owners Jerry Richardson (Panthers), Clark Hunt (Chiefs), John Mara (Giants) and Dean Spanos (Chargers). DeMaurice Smith, the head of the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA, led the players' side along with Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Tony Richardson and Domonique Foxworth.
Money is another obvious reason that the two sides have resumed discussions. Many around the league believe mid-July — July 15 has been used as the target date, though it's not an official one — is the deadline to reach a CBA in order to have a full preseason.
NFL.com reported Wednesday the league would lose roughly $1 billion if it didn't have a preseason, and it would lose $350 million in revenue without a resolution by Aug. 1.
While speaking with NESN.com, one league source estimated the NFL would lose at least $6 billion if it audibled to an eight-game season, and that was a conservative guess.
Nevertheless, these orchestrated discussions are a very positive sign that shows neither side wants the lockout to reach that point. They know they've already suffered enough damage with their fan base, and the willingness to get back to the table might be the first truly significant sign in months that they're ready to do what it takes to end the lockout.
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