Four scenarios for when the lockout is going to end

by | National Columnist

After NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith briefed team player representatives this past week on the latest labor developments, one of the players hung up the phone after the meeting's conclusion and had an immediate thought: "It sounds like this damn thing could be close to being over."

When Smith spoke to the players he didn't offer specifics or a timetable, but he did offer optimism. Still, whether the damn lockout is really almost damn well over, no damn body knows for sure.

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So here we are. When searching for a hardened status update, much depends on the eye of the lockout beholder. Some NFLPA and league officials think the lockout will end sooner than later. Others think August. Others think a season will be lost. More think a single day of training camp won't be missed.

During the past 48 hours, after speaking with a number of players and league officials, the best consensus is this: the lockout will probably end sometime between early- and mid-July which is what I've believed all along.

The main impetus behind recent progress remains ownership. The revenue from preseason games is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to them. This, I'm told, is one of the financial tipping points that got talks speeding along at warp speed when they previously moved at sub-light.

So here we are, indeed. All these months later, numerous press conferences later, the highs and lows, the rhetoric, the extremism, some 100 days of this, four scenarios still remain:

  It ends within a few weeks.

One player called this the "Whitey Bulger theory." I have no idea what that means and he tried to explain it repeatedly and I still didn't get it. Something about a deal in hiding. This theory basically says the two sides have already made far more progress than they want to publicly admit, particularly on how to divide the overall revenue.

From there things would move rapidly because slicing up the revenue is the largest obstacle to a deal.

"Look, someone asked me whether I was optimistic," Smith said. "I think we're both optimistic when we have the right people in the room. We know we're talking about the right issues and that we're working hard to get it done."

Chance this theory is accurate: 20 percent.

  It ends months from now. Or beyond.

The doomsday scenario, increasingly unlikely as the talks continue, has the season lost if a deal isn't made by late August. Many I've interviewed think the preseason is doomed if no deal is struck by July 15 or thereabouts (I have serious doubts about this date). If preseason is lost there's a good chance the season might be as well.

This won't happen because owners would lose the previously mentioned preseason monies. Players, I'm also told, while unlikely to fold until paychecks are missed (I think the players are highly unified now) also desperately don't want to reach a point where the lockout threatens fan loyalty. They fear the serious public relations fallout more than the owners do because they would be closer to fan resentment and anger than anyone else in the NFL.

Chance this theory is accurate: 5 percent.

  The courts force a settlement.

Have you noticed something? There hasn't been a peep from either the 8th circuit, ruling over the lockout case, or the court of Judge David Doty, who is expected to issue punitive damages on the TV lockout fund case lost by the owners. Both are pivotal rulings and every indicator signals the courts are holding off making them while owners and players negotiate.

That won't last, however. If the courts see progress has stalled they'll jump in. The impact the rulings would have is the wildcard of this entire lockout.

Chance this theory is accurate: 10 percent.

  The sides reach agreement in July.

Every indicator points to this. Why? There is sincere dedication from owners and players to keep talking. Smith now trusts Roger Goodell (they appeared together at a joint news conference recently) and vice versa.

Chance this theory is accurate: 65 percent. I've been more optimistic in recent weeks because people close to the situation are also far more optimistic privately than they are publicly or in news conferences. I'm also hopeful when I see quotes like this one.

"We're definitely optimistic we're moving in the right direction," Buffalo player rep George Wilson told the Associated Press. "Right now we feel like we're having meaningful discussions. ... We feel we have the right people in the room, discussing the right things and both sides want to get a deal done. But even though we're moving in the right direction, we're not there yet."

Not yet. But soon.



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