Progress, according to a handful of NFL owners, has been made at the not-so-secret secret meetings between NFL players and owners last week held in Chicago and New York.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said there’s progress “because we’re talking now.”
When mere talking is considered progress, that gives an indication of how much work there is to be done.
So you’ll be excused if you don’t get too excited about the latest word leaking out of the secret meetings that the owners and players have set a deadline of July 15 to get a deal done.
The desire to get a deal done may be building, but how widely that desire has spread, especially among the league’s 32 owners, remains a big unknown.
Getting a deal drafted is one thing. Getting 32 billionaires with widely divergent agendas to sign off on it is another. One thing all this optimism has clouded is the fact that large market and small market owners have very different needs and desires out of a new collective bargaining deal with the players.
But billionaires or not, the pressure to get a deal done is building. While sources close to the league have told me some owners are eager to break the union, they still can’t ignore that having the lockout in place Aug. 1 ensures the league will lose $350 million in revenue. Canceling the entire preseason increases the loss to $1 billion.
So while one league source is telling me that the framework for a labor deal could be in place within two weeks, another is telling me that owners are making contingency plans for an eight-game season. Eight games hardly seem like enough to crown division championships. ESPN’s John Clayton said it best when he said, “Let’s not think about an eight-game season.”
An eight-game season would cost the NFL and its teams close to $4 billion. While a halved regular season may not impact the economic benefit of the 2012 Super Bowl slated to be held in Indianapolis, it certainly would impact downtown businesses that count on those pre-season and regular-season games to fill their cash registers.
If a deal does get done by mid-July, expect a mad rush to ensue to sign rookies and free agents—not to mention veterans like Peyton Manning with expiring contract—and to complete trades, and get players in to meet with coaches and start working out.
If it doesn’t get done?
As Clayton said about an eight-game season, let’s not think about it. Not yet anyway.