Young's wisdom proves prophetic with July labor breakthrough

by | The Sports Xchange/

If former NFL and team personnel executive George Young could speak from the grave, he would probably have four words of wisdom for the NFL and NFLPA negotiators who have been laboring for months on a CBA extension and now seem poised to finalize a long-lasting labor deal:

I told you so.

For years, Young espoused the unwavering belief that nothing important in the league gets done until Bastille Day, the French national holiday annually celebrated on July 14. New York reporters used to fret every year that the Giants generally would enter mid-July with none of their draft choices signed, usually lagging behind in the free-agent market and with a few roster holes to spackle. So the media folks would ring up Young, and he would, absolutely devoid of any panic or urgency reflected in his public demeanor, remind them of his theory.

And, typically, Young was right.

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Alas, posthumously but also with unwitting precision, Young was on the nose again this time around. Last Thursday, the day it appears the two sides all but reached agreement in principle on the major components of a CBA that will assure workplace peace for at least a half-generation, was, not all that incredibly, July 14.

It's notable that Young, whose résumé included three Super Bowl championships and five nods as NFL Executive of the Year, taught history and political science before he entered the league full-time with the Baltimore Colts. He knew both well, and he applied his knowledge of the two disciplines in his dealings at the team and league levels. That's not to pretend that were Young still alive, the negotiations toward a new labor accord would have been sealed any earlier.

Indeed, they might not have been.

But Young operated on the often-demonstrated truism that the NFL is the ultimate deadline league, that nothing is accomplished until a gun is pointed at somebody's temple and that most accords aren't consummated until they are accompanied by the ominous sound of a clock ticking in the background. More often than not, Young was correct. Oh, sure, it would usually take 20 minutes or so of dubious one-liners to arrive at Young's point (a trait he shared with late NBA personnel chief Marty Blake), but when he got serious, his conclusions were pithier than the hackneyed stories and lessons that preceded them, and largely more pointed.

None of that is to trivialize the months of haggling, bartering and stance-swapping, or certainly the public and silly vitriol, that encompassed labor discussions. Any negotiation, by definition, is a process. There has to be some horse-trading, and misguided language, before everyone kisses and makes up. Even with a windfall of $9 billion-plus to divvy up, and the widespread notion that both sides had enough smart people at the table to keep from strangling the golden goose altogether, a new CBA was never going to be easily accomplished.

Still, like the standard office pool on when the receptionist is going to have her baby, just about everyone offered a guesstimate as to when the NFL and the soon-to-be recertified union would give birth to a new collective bargaining agreement. Not all that surprisingly -- no sense delineating here all of the misses -- none of the guesses were right.

Things get done in the NFL, Young concluded, when they get done. And that's usually the middle of July.

Young, who must have been rotating in his grave like a rotisserie at all the prognostications for a deal between the owners and their employees, probably smiled from heaven at last week's news that the two sides were closing in on an agreement on Bastille Day.

Yeah, he told you so.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for the Sports Xchange.


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