The NFL labor situation is changing by the hour.
On Saturday afternoon, shortly after two players and one management source said the sides were in a "staring contest," and progress was slow, came a breakthrough.
One high-ranking member of the trade association said so much progress was made that a deal was near. Player reps, I'm told, believe a deal is near.
Word began to spread across the sport as news of a possible deal began to leak. One coach said he kissed his wife and jokingly told her he’d see her in February. One high ranking member of the trade association was unaware a breakthrough was made.
Another trade association official, after reading CBSSports.com’s coverage, as well as others, reiterated there were still outstanding issues to work out. He declined to say what those issues were.
Seattle lineman Chester Pitts, who is also the team's player representative, told me he believed there was a good chance a deal would be done by early next week."I'm optimistic," he said, "this will all be done next week and we'll be back to playing football."
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Clearly, however, a large amount of progress was made on Saturday. Player reps, I’m told, are heading to Washington over the next day or so. Also, I’m told, the key to breakthrough was the relationship between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith.
The two men had become close over the past few months and that relationship paid dividends over the weekend. Goodell assured Smith, I’m told, that he could trust ownership and Smith told Goodell he could deliver the votes and get the new CBA approved.
The new CBA, as I’ve previously reported, is a firm 10 years. There are no opt-out clauses. That means labor peace is assured for a solid decade.
The player source said it was unclear whether a vote was near, but thought the vote might come Monday or Tuesday. He reiterated a deal wasn't done yet -- but close. So close that the executive committee might vote as soon as Sunday, though the player source felt Monday was more likely.
One of the more complicated issues remaining -- reconstituting the union -- also could be moving toward a resolution.
We've heard this before, of course, but this time -- hopefully -- it's true.
Lawyers for both the players and owners appeared to have made major breakthroughs on a number of issues, including the timing of players reconstituting as a union. It was complicated, but basically came down to this: the owners say the players can reconstitute in the blink of an eye using electronic means, thus expediting the start of the NFL year. Then, once the union is reformed, they can finish negotiating other workplace-type issues, like drug testing.
The players, I'm told, didn't believe that was the real reason the owners urged them to recreate the union easily and quickly. If the players did as the owners desired, the players thought, the owners would use that against them in future talks. The owners would attempt to kill the Brady antitrust case and the next time players and owners went through a labor dispute, the owners would again claim decertification as a sham. Except then they'd have more ammunition in doing so.
This is why the union insisted on having players hand-sign cards attesting to recertification instead of signing electronically. It's a more deliberate process and leaves the union less vulnerable to accusations its metamorphosis from union to trade association and back is a sham.
There's also the concern that becoming a union would negate all player leverage for CBA-related issues -- and there were a number of such issues, including one that hasn't been mentioned much in the media. The players want more doctor/trainer oversight for medical issues. Some players still feel that doctors and trainers look out for the interests of teams first instead of the interests of players.
Apparently, the owners and players were able to solve this and many others issues. The lack of trust that existed just a matter of hours and days ago seemingly was restored.
Is football peace right around the corner?