Despite what you may have heard this week, the NFL and NFLPA continue to make strides towards a new collective bargaining agreement well before the current one expires, continue to share positive vibes and a meaningful dialogue and seem more aligned than anytime in recent memory in terms of a shared vision to establish long-term labor peace prior to the start of the 2020 season.
This was the case when I first reported on the strong early progress on informal talks and mutual good feelings about the start of formal negotiations way back at the combine. And it remains very much the case now, according to well-placed sources with both labor and management. In fact, things have gone eerily swimmingly thus far, as numerous other media outlets have picked up with their reporting since my initial account.
Which makes the events of this week, frankly, totally predictable. Word trickling out from the NFL side about possibly still clinging to the idea of pursuing an 18-game season (newsflash: it won't happen) and the NFLPA notifying all agents to urge clients to save and prepare for a lockout of at least one year (newsflash: that ain't happening either) are exactly what I would expect at this point in the process, and, in context, make perfect sense.
The reality here is both entities have large constituencies to serve, and there are hawks and doves within the ranks of both. It's become increasingly clear, through the tenor and tone of reporting on these talks, that there is unprecedented goodwill and movement between the sides under their current regimes (Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith) and that progress is being made. But managing expectations and giving some red meat to the hardliners is always a part of the making of this sausage, and it strikes as less than coincidental that both sides leaked some this week.
More talks are ahead in the coming months and no one wants to give off the air they are rolling over too much.
So for those in the union ranks who believe the sky is always falling and dread is on the horizon, why not send out a doom-and-gloom letter just to make sure everyone knows how real the fight is and how stuck in the NFLPA is and to put everyone on notice a bit of what dastardly deeds these owners may be capable of (even though it's been a generation since there was a labor stoppage of any consequence in this sport). After so much rhetoric about lockouts and potential ugliness over the past 12 months or so out of some in the NFLPA camp, it makes no sense to abandon it completely, even as that outcome seems increasingly remote.
There is always a group of owners out there that wants to go for the throat at all costs and force things down the players' throats. And few issues have drawn a more visceral response from all sides than the 18-game season concept. So, even with things trending in an overly positive direction, it makes just as much sense for the NFL to throw that out there as well, to put the union on notice a bit and let some firebrand owners believe they will push that issue to the limit. It can't be all holding hands and smiling faces; this is a multi-billion dollar labor negotiation after all.
But I have yet to speak to anyone on either side who envisioned either of these scenarios actually playing out. As stated in this space before, there is simply too much money at stake out there in the next TV rights and streaming rights and legalized sports-betting revenue. Both sides see how exponentially the pot can grow. There is a pot of gold on the other side of this negotiating rainbow, and too much common sense and fiscal sense to blow it.
"Everyone involved in this process feels really good about the negotiations," said one source with knowledge of the situation. "That's been a constant."
So I continue to bet on a new deal being completed in 2020 – well before the 2021 expiration – and the outward signals of extreme propaganda belie what has really been going on behind closed doors. The NFL will capitulate on marijuana policy and commissioner's powers when it's all said and done, an extra playoff game will be added to each conference, franchise tags are here to stay, guaranteed contracts won't be coming, roster sizes will expand and the business of NFL football will remain robust well beyond the next election and into the next decade.
Look for Jets to hire Douglas soon
The perception that the Jets are running a GM search that already has a determined outcome is as strong now as it was before the draft. Joe Douglas will be the team's next general manager barring some unforeseen breakdown between the sides – at least that is what the rest of the industry is convinced of.
Sources said there was already some contact between those parties prior to Douglas' scheduled formal interview, and people in other front offices would be shocked if he does not take this job. If that somehow does go sideways, then Chicago exec Champ Kelly, who also has a prior relationship with Adam Gase, is viewed as the next in line.
Hiring Douglas would be for the best at this point. The Eagles were expecting his departure in 2019, anyway, and are fortified for his exodus (I continue to hear a promotion for Andrew Berry would come if/when Douglas takes over the Jets). He is more than ready for the job and he and Gase have no excuses not to work well together and build off a roster that was already fortified by the outgoing regime in the past four months. I'd expect this to be wrapped up by next week.
Hail Mary is in the eye of the beholder
What exactly is a Hail Mary?
Coaches, executives and people at the league office are still trying to figure out a true definition. Much like art, it seems to be in the eye of the beholder. NFL teams were a little shocked to see more alterations made to the replay process at the May owners meetings and there still seems to be plenty of confusion and consternation into how this rule will be applied.
The fear is that coaches will throw replay flags on any ball chucked into the end zone just looking for a penalty out of an otherwise hopeless situation. The league wants to avoid that look and an endless process of stoppages at the end of halves.
"They're now put it in the hands of coaches, but what exactly is a Hail Mary?" said a top official from one team. "How far does that ball have to travel down the field? How many defenders have to be in the end zone? Are there certain aspects we can agree that have to apply in order for it to be a Hail Mary? It's not as easy as some would you believe."
The goal for the Competition Committee would be to create language that clearly stipulates what constitutes a Hail Mary, and then use that to preclude that formation/play from being protected as eligible for replay. But the more teams talk about it amongst themselves, and with one another, it may prove difficult to adopt a standard definition that most will agree to. The league clearly wants this resolved before the season and about two weeks from now teams will be shutting it down until training camp.
Whatever the definition becomes, enterprising coaches will be trying to find a way around it. That's how it goes.