On Thursday, the NFL and NFLPA adjourned after seven straight days of negotiations. Talks will resume on Tuesday at the request of mediator George H. Cohen, who had this to say about the status of the negotiations:
"The tenor of across-the-board discussions reflected a noteworthy level of mutual respect even in the face of strongly held competing positions."
"Some progress was made, but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues."
Both the NFL and the NFLPA have adhered to Cohen’s request to avoid making public comments, but it's becoming increasingly clear that not enough is being done to prevent the train wreck that everyone can see coming, and everybody involved is now bracing for the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
On Friday, NFLPA Exec Director DeMaurice Smith addressed player agents in a closed meeting. According to Adam Shefter, an agent in the room texted the following: "Not close on one single issue. This WILL go into September."
The union took the unusual step of putting prominent player agents Tom Condon, Ben Dogra, Drew Rosenhaus and Joel Segal side-by-side in a show of unity for Smith and the players. The agents echoed the NFLPA's company line:
"The agents are unified. We are 100 percent behind Dee Smith and my clients are 100 percent behind Dee Smith," Rosenhaus said. "He's doing everything he can to get a fair deal with the owners."
Also on Friday, the NFL gathered its own big guns. Commissioner Roger Goodell met Friday morning with the majority of the league's ownership labor committee to brief them on the labor negotiations. The committee is also expected to have addressed Cohen's request to assess their positions on the "important core issues" of the last week. This is the labor committee:
Jerry Richardson, Carolina Panthers, Co-chairman
Pat Bowlen, Denver Broncos, Co-chairman (absent, but believed to have participated via phone conference)
, Cincinnati Bengals
Clark Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
Robert Kraft, New England Patriots
John Mara, New York Giants
Mark Murphy, Green Bay Packers
Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Steelers
Dean Spanos, San Diego Chargers
On Saturday, news surfaced via ESPN that the NFLPA is planning to decertify by Thursday next week, prior to the expiration of the CBA. According to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, once the union decertifies it "would then seek an injunction to block a potential lockout" which would be lawsuit number one. The NFL of course would immediately counter-sue and claim the decertification to be a sham. That's lawsuit number two.
Lawsuit number two is where the train hits the wall. The dispute would then move from the (federally moderated) negotiating table to the courtrooms and turn into a protracted legal battle that would in all likelihood result in a couple of missed games in the 2011 season.
Of course, all of this may simply be part of the maneuvering between the two sides to gain an upper hand in the negotiations. The two sides still have Tuesday, Wednesday and all day Thursday next week to make some progress, and while the chances of getting a new CBA done by then are exactly zero, the two sides could still agree to extend the current CBA for a couple of weeks until they get everything sorted out. But if the current CBA expires on Thursday at midnight, the speeding train will have passed the point of no return.