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Goodell, Smith's private negotiations will decide fate of season

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The lockout has lasted over 100 days. Wars have concluded with more rapidity. The careers of politicians have burned out quicker. Rocket ships have reached other planets sooner. Tiki Barber became tabloid fodder faster. One. Hundred. Days.

Few believed pure lunacy could endure for months but it has as the owners and players fight like two toddlers over the same, gold-plated binky. But fight they have: at times viciously, at times brutally, at times with no punches pulled.

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One hundred days of this nonsense. Now, however, we finally reach one of the most critical stages of this long nightmare. This coming week, various league and player sources have told me, might be the most important of this fight. This week could determine when this labor fight finally ends.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith are among a small contingent meeting in Minneapolis. It's been reported by ESPN the two are meeting for four consecutive days but I'm told that number is flexible. Could be shorter, could be a little longer.

What's not in dispute is the importance of the meeting. If significant headway can be made during this meeting blitz, then an on-time start to the season is practically a lock. I've always believed this would be settled by mid-July and there is still a good chance that happens. A productive get-together between Goodell and Smith would all but assure that.

If the two sides meet and little or no progress is made then an on-time season start is suddenly in grave danger.

The fate of the NFL season may rest on Roger Goodell's ability to negotiate a new CBA in private meetings with DeMaurice Smith. (Getty Images)  
The fate of the NFL season may rest on Roger Goodell's ability to negotiate a new CBA in private meetings with DeMaurice Smith. (Getty Images)  
There is one difference about this week of negotiating, I'm told, and it's an interesting one. Both Goodell and Smith feel like they've been handed more respective authority to make an agreement on behalf of their constituents; Goodell on behalf of the owners and Smith on behalf of the players.

Obviously both men are running everything past their bosses but the negotiating process is clearly being streamlined (for the moment). That's nothing but good news.

Something else that's been decided. If there is no new agreement and the lockout continues the Hall of Fame induction and the accompanying events will continue as planned. The game would be lost but at least the lockout won't mess with history. The induction ceremony would be the only thing football-related happening should the lockout enter August.

The scenario I've long envisioned goes this way. The owners and players announce a handshake agreement before the weekend of July 4th so they can then say: the patriotic owners and players have saved football for our country. Now go eat hot dogs and blow up your garage with fireworks, America, 'cause football is back!

Overall, both sides are operating with urgency when months ago the process was far too nonchalant. That's the good news.

The bad news is this is over one 100 days and counting. There's been pessimism and optimism and every varying emotion in between. It seemed it would end quickly and then it felt like the lockout could endure forever. It's been ugly and hopeful while demonstrating the best and much of the worse of the men who run football.

And finally we may have a significant milepost -- this coming week or so -- telling us when it could end. Finally, something tangible to grab as deadlines near.

Is this the week common sense wins or stupidity prevails?

We'll see.

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