NFL lockout likely despite ongoing negotiations

Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) talks with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) talks with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
Posted: March 03, 2011

CHANTILLY, Va. - There is a large pair of Chinese sang de boeuf Lang Yao urns standing in the lobby of the Westfields Marriott that had just about as much to say about the NFL collective bargaining situation as most owners did yesterday.

The urns stood guard in an entranceway as NFL owners arrived for and departed from their 3-hour meeting in a third-floor conference room. A few owners stopped to talk for the cameras as they were leaving, but in terms of the value of what was said, the cameras might as well have focused on the urns.

An NFL spokesman said federally mediated talks will continue today, as the clock ticks toward midnight and the expiration of the CBA. Around 8 p.m. last night, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who'd left the owners' meeting without commenting to reporters, showed up with two lieutenants at the D.C. offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, for an extra bargaining session with mediator George Cohen that had been hinted at when the talks broke off in the afternoon for the owners' meeting. But as of 9 p.m., union negotiators had not joined the festivities.

Despite the ongoing talks, the buzz yesterday held that the union will decertify today and the league will lock out at midnight. Then the fight will move into the courts, with players filing antitrust suits and the owners arguing that the decertification move that would allow those suits is just a bargaining ploy, and not a true dissolution of the union.

The brevity of the owners' meeting certainly indicated no breakthrough was imminent. The few owners who spoke afterward voiced vague, general optimism, based on the fact that talks continue.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was not among them; Lurie and team president Joe Banner rushed past reporters in the lobby so briskly that a backpedaling TV cameraman failed to see a leather sofa in his path and took a tumble.

"The federal mediator prohibits any comments,'' Lurie said.

For once, Lurie and Dallas owner Jerry Jones were in agreement, though Jones stood still while saying so.

"We're still involved in our dialogue, so there is no comment,'' Jones said when the league's labor committee adjourned, after the general meeting.

Colts owner Jim Irsay took those instructions much less literally.

"Nothing is definitive as far as a lockout or anything like that,'' Irsay said. "As of tonight, we're continuing the process of discussing all the issues, and the full membership being updated. We really didn't vote on anything. It was more just a thorough update and a chance to ask questions and that sort of thing. We didn't break the room with a lockout vote or anything like that.''

The NFL spokesman, Greg Aiello, said there would be no overall lockout vote - the labor committee is empowered to decide on that at an appropriate time, which has to be after the CBA expires.

Does Irsay expect the game to shut down at midnight?

"Going through these things in the '70s and '80s, I never have expectations except 'A, B, C, D, E and always plan for F,' because it changes,'' Irsay said. "It's a chessboard that moves around, and things change, things happen at unusual hours. I don't want to put any certainty [to] what the evening will bring tomorrow.

"I remember last time [in 2006], everyone broke away and [commissioner Paul Tagliabue] texted [then-union chief] Gene Upshaw, they hooked back up beyond the 11th hour. I think Gene already had started ordering drinks to either celebrate or drown his sorrows.''

Asked if he is hopeful, Irsay said he "really can't comment on that. I'm sure you guys have heard of the Vegas rule - what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It's important to have some sanctity in the room where the negotiations are happening. That's the best way to get something done.''

Irsay seemed to be hinting at a lockout when he said: "In business, you have to have contingencies to go forward. More will be revealed, but we'll go to work [today] and see what happens.''

Irsay concluded that "there's always [a chance for] progress when you're talking, when you're moving forward.''

Jets owner Woody Johnson said: "We're working on an agreement. We're still working hard. I think there's good intentions on both sides. Hopefully, with good intentions, we'll get something done.''

Asked if he was more optimistic than when he arrived, Johnson said he was not, "but I'm eternally optimistic anyway, that's why I'm in sports.''

Absolutely no one anywhere said anything about progress on the central issue, the percentage of revenues the owners are allowed to keep. The owners want to take an extra billion dollars off the top before the revenue is split with the players, doubling what they get currently, which is to go toward stadium construction and upkeep. The union does not feel, with TV contracts only getting richer, there is sufficient reason for such a move. It especially feels that the limited financial information the owners have provided does not indicate such a need.

Other issues include a possible 18-game season and a rookie salary scale.

Aiello said: "Our commitment is to get a fair agreement as soon as possible without any disruption to the season. We're fully focused on that goal.''

Aiello said the NFL has not decided whether to appeal U.S. judge David Doty's ruling Tuesday that the league can't use $4 billion in lockout contingency money it negotiated in its current TV contracts. Aiello said the ruling was not unexpected.

Asked how fans should read the fact that the sides will head into a 10th day of mediated talks this morning, Aiello said: "Our clubs are fully committed to the mediation process. We want to continue through that process until we reach an agreement.''

At least two members of the league's labor committee, Jones and Bob Kraft of New England, told reporters last night they were headed home, but Jones said not to read anything into that.

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/LesBowen.

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