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NFL talks progress despite spin control

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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As the owners and players squabble over billions, they are also fighting for hearts and minds. Namely, yours. How are they doing this? By spinning the hell out of people like me. This has indeed become the week from spin hell.

No one spins better than the NFL and the collection of stories from the past 48 hours shows why. This is what I was told. The NFL owners and players have been closing in on the framework for a new CBA for some time and this week continued to do so. The two sides were scheduled to rejoin talks in Minneapolis on Thursday to examine the latest framework and possibly reconvene next week after the holiday. Two sources with knowledge of the negotiations insisted that while a deal was not imminent, it was indeed close.

This is what Jay Glazer from Foxsports.com reported: NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith, in a secret call with 50 of the NFL's elite players this week, said a deal was not close. Glazer then later tweeted that a deal would get done.

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This is what the NFL Network's Albert Breer stated: Players and owners are rejoining meetings on Thursday and may use Friday to talk as well.

This is what NFL PR head Greg Aiello, one of the best in the business, tweeted on Wednesday night, as optimism dipped and rose. He quoted the late New York Giants General Manager George Young, who made several humorous remarks about deal-making in the NFL. Aiello tweeted this Young-ism: "There is no such thing as close. If it's not done, it's either an inch or a mile."

And this is what Smith and Roger Goodell did. They flew together to the rookie symposium, practically arm in arm, sending a deliberate message that things were, well, just swell. The only thing missing from the photo op was a harmonica, a piano and sunglasses.

Spin, spin, spin your boat ... gently down the stream. So many reports, so many statements, so many purposeful leaks.

The spinning in this labor dispute has become remarkable. We're all being used in the media. Myself included. To scare the other side. Or tell them what one side is really thinking. The players want the owners to not be fooled into believing they're pushovers, so here comes leaks from secret meetings. The owners want to push a few player buttons so they state it isn't close even though it likely is. This is so strange we're now debating what the definition of close is.

The labor talks have become a spy novel but I'm not sure which one is Jason Bourne -- Goodell or Smith.

Used. Used. Used. Myself included. Like a farm animal with a plow in tow. Mooooooo.

There is a little bit of truth to all the scenarios and once you break through the spin, the translation goes like this:

First, one man's close is another man's non-close. Executives in both the NFL and NFLPA have told me a deal is close. And it is. But to others, there is no such thing as close because there is either a deal or no deal.

Such thinking is infantile but I get it. In this tenuous labor environment, however, with a hard deadline like the start of training camps near, close certainly matters.

Second, Smith, who is extremely bright, is also proving to be highly skilled at manipulating me and my media brethren. Damn, he's good.

The snag in talks, as first reported by ProFootballTalk.com and confirmed by me, is that the owners are playing head games with the players. Wrote the website: " ... deal could have been done a week or two ago, but the owners have been playing games with some of the numbers, possibly relying upon the emergence and strengthening sense that the players are ready to get a deal done in order to squeeze the players on some of the smaller issues."

I've heard the same thing. So Smith is attempting to elbow the owners back by having two conference calls with players. The first was about a week ago with a number of players and then came the most recent one.

Again, Smith is smart. He knows the media will find out the details of these calls so he plants information that the deal isn't close -- remember close is in the eye of the beholder -- as a way of letting the owners know the players won't roll over even when a deal is within striking distance.

It's genius, really. Absolute genius.

And it will continue to until a new CBA is completed.

Then comes the post-deal spin.

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