I admit, I was getting a little bit more optimistic earlier this week when the NFL owners and the NFL Player's Association agreed to federal mediation and ended up talking for most of the week. At least they were in a room discussing the issues instead of taking broadsides at each other in the press.
Well, that optimism is fading for me. Even though we haven't had a lot of commentary from either side on exactly what is going on in the talks, the brief snippets we do get sound something like - we're talking, but we've still got issues. It's like trying to get back together with an ex-girlfriend.
Yesterday the federal mediator broke his silence and issued a statement. It kind of felt like good news until you got to the end.
"Our time together has been devoted to establishing an atmosphere conducive to meaningful negotiations and, of course, matters of process and substance," Cohen said in a statement released Thursday. "I can report that throughout this extensive period, the parties engaged in a highly focused, constructive dialogue concerning a host of issues covering both the economics and player-related conditions. The tenor of across-the-board discussions reflected a noteworthy level of mutual respect even in the face of strongly held competing positions."
But Cohen added, "Some progress was made, but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues."
Uggh. So basically they're talking to each other in a more civil tone, but they don't seem to be getting very far. The Player's Association head, DeMaurice Smith, met with agents at the combine. What exactly was said is unknown, but leave it to Adam Schefter to get the inside scoop.
But in a text to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, one of the agents in the room, who wished to remain anonymous, wasn't optimistic about the progress of the labor talks.
"Not close on one single issue," the text said. "This WILL go into september."
Back to my original thoughts, which were that this thing would not be settled anytime soon and that we would likely lose a game or two before they come to their senses.
Now, A U.S. senator wants them to come to their senses. In a move that has most people baffled, the NFL refuses to share the books with the players, even if they took out some of the most sensitive stuff. This has got to grate on the players and engender a certain amount of distrust. Senator Jay Rockerfeller is calling on the NFL to open the books.
"Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to sort out this stalemate is for the owners and the league to answer the biggest sticking point: money," Sen. Jay Rockefeller wrote in a Washington Post opinion column on Friday.
"What I'd like to see from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners is a simple display of good faith: Show the union your books. Don't keep secrets. If there are financial pressures that keep you from agreeing to the revenue-sharing plan proposed by the players, let's see the proof." Rockefeller, D-W.Va., suggested that a neutral third party review the financial data, remove anything sensitive and prepare an assessment of the league's finances.
Good luck on that.
Meanwhile, there are other court cases going on that show just how far apart the sides are, and how much mistrust there is between them.
The NFL and the players' union took their fight over $4 billion in TV and wireless revenue before a federal judge in Minnesota on Thursday, a potentially critical issue just one week before their current labor pact expires.
U.S. District Court judge David Doty in Minneapolis, who has jurisdiction over NFL labor matters since a 1993 settlement that paved the way for unrestricted free agency, unsealed some details in the case.
He did not immediately rule on the NFL Players' Association appeal of a special master's decision earlier this month that lets the league keep $4 billion in broadcast rights fees. The union contends that money was carved out as a financial cushion -- leverage -- if NFL owners impose a lockout and the 2011 season is lost. The NFLPA argues that money should be escrowed.
Money! We love it, but it's killing our 2011 offseason, and is threatening the whole season.
The clock is ticking...