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Owners' actions will decide impact of court ruling

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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This is what the arrogant, disruptive, and tone deaf U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals just did with its ruling.

It took the players, grabbed them by the throat, moved them toward a chopping block, lowered their collective heads and then handed the owners an axe.

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"Go ahead," the 8th Circuit said, "and take a swing."

Now this is a crucial moment for the owners. It might even be a crucial moment in the history of the sport. What do the owners do with that axe?

If they use that newfound power given to them by the 8th circuit, and demand more from the players during what have been especially tense negotiations, then the season will be delayed, at best, and large swaths of it could be eradicated, at worst. If not lost all together.

The 8th Circuit decision was a total victory for the owners. Free agency and other legal aspects aside, the most crucial point remains that for the foreseeable future, players won't be getting paid.

To repeat: the players aren't getting paychecks. If this extends into the season, game checks will be missed. That is the ultimate power the owners now possess. We knew this was the likely outcome, but now that outcome is official. Let's not fool ourselves. The owners received a huge win with this decision. It potentially changes everything.

Which brings us to that axe. The owners have their hands firmly grasped around it and what they do with it will determine if, and when, there is an NFL season.

In speaking with several people familiar with ownership thinking, they maintain there is no way in hell Roger Goodell would allow the owners to wreck the progress made in recent talks by being heavy-handed with their newfound power.

The belief is that so much progress has been made that the ruling won't cause the negotiations to crumble. There's also the public relations aspect to all of this. Ownership might be blamed if football fans feel they abused their power.

New England's Robert Kraft, a moderate trusted by the players, will remain a key to talks. (AP)  
New England's Robert Kraft, a moderate trusted by the players, will remain a key to talks. (AP)  
So, best guess remains that owners will act like big boys, talks will continue, and a deal will still be reached. Meaning there will be football.

That's the bottom line. There likely still will be football because the more rational heads in the room will prevail. Remember: Two of the most dominant owner presences currently involved in the talks are John Mara and Robert Kraft. They are far from extremists and highly trusted by the players.

But the situation remains unpredictable. My concern is that the owners, wealthy businessmen, didn't get to be billionaires by not swinging the axe when they had a chance. You don't get ridiculously rich by being nice.

I'm also concerned a proud player group becomes more stubborn and entrenched even though it seems clear now that the court strategy they've utilized was a grand failure. The owners have kicked the players' asses. It's that simple.

The timing of this ruling illustrates the grandest of arrogance by the appellate court. The two sides were clearly making progress and the court knew this since it was being informed about details of the talks by the federal mediator overseeing the discussions. The court couldn't wait another few days?

The owners have the power. They have that axe and it still seems likely they won't be bullies and use it. They will keep talking and with the threat of losing hundreds of millions, if not billions, will be a larger factor than exacting revenge or getting the upper hand.

Common sense will probably still prevail.

As shocking as that might seem.

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