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Retiree benefits among issues preventing new labor deal

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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Progress in the NFL's labor discussions continues to be made and there remain reasons to believe the season will begin on time. Still new concerns and information are emerging from the latest round of discussions that should make fans just a little nervous.

NFL owners were informed Friday about the latest concerns and those concerns portray negotiations as extremely tenuous, perhaps far more tenuous than generally known.

For the first time, a source close to the talks says there is growing concern among ownership that games could be missed if progress isn't considerably accelerated when the players and owners meet again next week in New York. I believe this will be part of the briefing the ownership negotiating team will be reporting to the rest of ownership.

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Owners are increasingly starting to think canceled games are possible and are expressing concern that if games are canceled then saving the season becomes all the more difficult.

One of the battles, surprisingly, has focused on retiree benefits. Owners believe NFLPA lawyers are slowing the negotiations by not resolving the issue of what exact benefits retirees should receive. This is the first time the issue of retiree benefits as an obstacle has been publicly known.

An NFLPA official with knowledge of the negotiations told me that while retiree benefits have been a discussed issue; it is untrue that the players are standing in the way of progress on the matter.

There also remains a significant issue with the management negotiating team and the lawyers for the NFLPA. In fact, I'm beginning to believe that unless the NFLPA lawyers are basically kicked out of the room until the very end of the process, a deal may not ever get done. That's how cold, if not downright vitriolic, the relationship between the NFLPA lawyers and the negotiating team for the lawyers remains.

Owners bristle at the portrayal of them as creating obstacles (I've written that and stand by it) and maintain the NFLPA attorneys are slowing the progress, not ownership.

One example, ownership feels, is that the NFLPA lawyers won't make a deal on retiree benefits. Since that remains a sticking point the two sides can't fully proceed on key economic issues.

Overall, owners see the NFLPA lawyers as a major impediment to closing a deal.

My feeling remains a deal gets done by mid-July. That's long been my belief and that hasn't changed. In the end, neither side will allow a season and an obscene amount of cash to burn.

The new information and concerns, however, make me a tad nervous.

Maybe more than a tad.

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