ATLANTA -- After five hours of talks Wednesday with the owners' labor committee, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said all the things you'd expect on the eve of a settlement between the league and its players.
For instance, he believed a deal could be brokered by Thursday, hoped both sides could ratify it as early as the morning and insisted the owners' upcoming agenda has not been affected by what happened -- or, more specifically, what did not -- at Wednesday's meeting of player reps in Washington.
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But Pash's public confidence seemed to betray a private concern among owners that lingering issues among players need to be resolved, issues that keep them from signing off on a new CBA -- with NFLPA president Kevin Mawae saying players aren't tied to a July 21 timetable for ratification.
Pash conceded the proposed agreement is "long" and "complicated," but he also seemed to suggest that it's up to the players to push this thing across the finish line -- basically, to end the drama that has some persons wondering what's going on and to make sooner, rather than later, the goal.
Granted, it's not a race, but owners came here thinking they would ratify a new deal to end the 127-day lockout ... and they probably will. But 11th-hour issues raised by players are enough of a concern that Pash at least felt compelled to send a message to Washington.
"The staffs and the attorneys have been making a lot of progress on the documentation and the language issue," he said. "It's obviously a complicated agreement. But I think both sides are at the point where they can close, they should close and we should be in a position to take votes."
I know one that wasn't Wednesday, but that's OK. As I said, it's not a race. But owners are ready to close the deal, and they have club officials arriving here to follow a proposed agreement with a labor seminar that would clarify the upcoming league schedule -- with the beginning of the league's calendar year, the timing of free agency and the opening of games delineated.
All of that, of course, is contingent on an agreement, and this just in: Pash said owners could approve a deal independently, just as players could, which means they could vote Thursday -- forcing players to respond as they did not Wednesday.
|Jeff Pash says 'both sides are at the point where they can close.' (AP)|
Maybe that's why Pash used the word "cautious" to describe his level of optimism that a deal is clinched Thursday. But, as he pointed out twice in speaking to the media, he wasn't there when players met in Washington so he doesn't know what they're thinking. What he does know is that owners are ready to vote to end the lockout, and they're ready to do it Thursday.
"We've been talking about what a calendar would look like for resuming when players would come in, when the new league year would open and free agency would start," he said. "Obviously, all of that would depend on what schedule there is for ratifying the agreement and making sure that all the steps that have to take place before the new league year can begin have, in fact, occurred."
Translation: Nothing happens until the drama is resolved. Precisely when that happens nobody here is sure, though Pash promised to "find out if there are issues that still need to be negotiated to work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place both sides can ratify in the morning."
That is the hope. The reality is that owners don't really know where Thursday takes them -– though most still seem confident they close the deal.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient concern that Pash seemed to minimize the chances of the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game being played. There has been no decision there yet, and, obviously, the sooner a deal is struck the better the chances are that the game goes on. But there's enough indecision out there that Pash conceded the chances of the game happening are "getting pretty tight" and "pretty challenging."
The implication is that the next -- and, hopefully, last -- move is up to the players. Owners hope they make it immediately, and, publicly at least, remain confident that occurs Thursday. Privately, they're not so sure.
"[We want] to have a complete, comprehensive, global agreement that settles all disputes," said Pash, "and puts us on a path where we're going forward together as business partners, the way it should be, rather than we're going forward with one hand and fighting over something that should be in the past."