According to Adam Shefter of ESPN. com, Judge Susan Richard Nelson has announced to the NFL and the NFL players that she will impose forced mediation on them early this week. This comes after her efforts to get the owners and players to continue mediation earlier last week didn't result in much except more posturing, bickering and whining - by both parties.
The owners would strongly prefer to resume negotiations under George Cohen, the federal mediator who had handled the previous sessions in Washington, because they desperately want to get out from under judicial oversight for the next CBA, as the oversight Judge Doty provided for the last CBA over 18 years was generally perceived as disadvantageous for the owners.
The players on the other hand would strongly prefer to keep the negotiations under court supervision, where they feel they would have the upper hand based on their successes in the past.
Judge Richardson is expected to rule on the venue early this week.
Peter King draws an interesting parallel and adds some other illuminating facts to the labor quagmire in his MMQB column:
Before there was a system of real free agency in place in the NFL, United States District Court Judge David Doty, overseeing the case from Minneapolis, told the players and owners if they didn't reach an agreement on the issues, he would impose one that neither side would like and one side would find highly onerous. That led to both sides agreeing to players being free after four seasons if their contracts had expired, with one franchise-player exception per team, and a hard salary cap.
Now Judge Nelson is saying both sides are at risk and telling them to get back to the table.
While this sounds like good news, don't get your hopes up just yet. Mike Florio from ProFootballTalk explains that it's all just part of the process:
The truth is that judges routinely compel parties to engage in mediation. It doesn't mean that the parties are required to settle the case. Instead, they must simply participate in the process in good faith.
Don't expect this round of mediations to be much more productive than the last round. This is just a minor skirmish in the overall battle to gain leverage by both sides. The more decisive battles will be Judge Nelson's ruling on the injunction against the lockout (which she is very likely to grant - yes, the lockout will be over in two or three weeks), and the guaranteed appeal by the losing side that will follow that ruling. Once the ruling on that appeal comes through, negotiations will start in earnest on a new CBA, though probably not before early to mid summer.