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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said the first face-to-face CBA talks in two months between the league and the NFLPA on Saturday were "beneficial," according to Ralph Vacchiano of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Still, it "doesn't appear the two sides got any closer to an agreement" after the two-hour meeting in Dallas ahead of Super Bowl XLV. Goodell said the meeting itself was "a positive." Similarly, NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith described it as a "good meeting" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/7). Smith yesterday added, "I don't think anyone went into the meeting with the idea that we were going to build Rome in one day." In addition to Goodell and the NFL's negotiating team, sources indicated that five owners were present: the Panthers' Jerry Richardson, the Patriots' Robert Kraft, the Chiefs' Clark Hunt, the Giants' John Mara and the Chargers' Dean Spanos. Sources on both sides have noted that Richardson "continues to be perceived as the least flexible and most pessimistic spokesman for the owners." On the other side of the table, sources indicated that Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees were "among the star players who attended" the negotiating session. Brees "has been an activist" as an Exec Committee member, but the "presence of Manning was a surprise and is an early indication that the union is successfully getting the support of its superstar quarterbacks" (ESPN.com, 2/6). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the meeting lasted two hours and "was a re-acquaintance, if you will," as the full negotiating teams from both sides "had not met since before Thanksgiving." La Canfora: "They’ll meet twice this week in smaller groups, committee meetings, trying to hammer away individual issues to ultimately get to the big picture and get this CBA done before March 4" ("NFL Gameday Morning," NFL Network, 2/6). ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted the players want Patriots QB Tom Brady "heavily involved in this." He said, "I think Brady will be involved at some point … to make sure that the union stays a union” (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 2/6).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Kraft, following Goodell's State of the League address on Friday, said it will be "criminal if a deal isn't done by March 4." Kraft: "This business is very healthy. There is a deal to be done here and it can set the business right for the next 15 years. And if we don't do it, it's criminal. We're healthy as an industry. It's not like we have to do cutbacks to survive." Kraft added, "We can get a deal done in a week. This deal could be done in a week." In N.Y., Gary Myers noted Kraft "has a plan [on] how to get an agreement: Kick all the lawyers out of the room," including the NFLPA's Smith and NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash. Kraft: "We got to get the lawyers off of both sides of the table. Have business people at the table. We can grow this business in a way that the players and owners, everyone makes out. ... We will have all failed if we don't find a way to get this deal done" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/5). In N.Y., Steve Serby wrote, "What we need now ... is a lockin. Have the owners and union heads representing the players lock themselves in a room and do not let them leave until there is a new collective bargaining agreement" (N.Y. POST, 2/5). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote both sides "have way too much to lose." They "know they can't kill the golden goose," and they "know their game is too important and too popular to let it vanish for very long" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/5). In Boston, Bob Ryan: "There is too much at stake, and too much money for too many people to lose, if a new deal is not hammered out before the expiration date of the current collective bargaining agreement." Ryan added, "The feeling is that of Europe in the beginning of 1914. There are serious tensions between owners and those who represent the players, and Bad Stuff is coming" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/5).
PREPARING FOR THE WORST? ESPN.com's Adam Schefter wrote NFL owners "have been preparing for the potential protracted labor battle with some super game planning." Team sources indicated that "under the terms of the CBA that govern uncapped years, each of the NFL's 32 teams was not required to fund player benefits such as 401K plans that are not in effect in uncapped years, saving each team $10 million that the NFL is holding on to." The $320M "could be used to help offset some of the costs during the early stages of a lockout." The league "continued funding pension, disability, 88 plan, post-retirement medical care and other benefits, and has committed to fund all benefits for retirees even after the CBA expires and even if there is a lockout." But Schefter noted it "stopped funding the specific player benefits, another step in the preparation for what could be a lengthy labor standoff in which some NFL employees will likely see pay cuts and furloughs" (ESPN.com, 2/6). In N.Y., Ken Belson noted if the owners "shut their doors, players will not receive hundreds of millions of dollars in salary advances and signing and roster bonuses, and free agents, rookies and other players will not be able to sign new contracts." Players "will also have to start paying for their own health care." Since Smith became NFLPA Exec Dir in March '09, he "has urged his union members to set aside extra money in case of a lockout." The NFLPA in '09 "increased its annual dues to $15,000, from $10,000, and put the money into a Lockout Fund." Accountant Steven Piascik, who prepares tax returns for pro athletes, said, "Are the players ready for a lockout? Absolutely not. Hopefully, a lockout won't be bad. But we are advising our athletes to maintain a strict budget" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/6).
DRAFT DODGERS? In DC, Mark Maske cited an NFL player agent as saying that there have been "discussions between agents and union representatives about the possibility of draft-eligible players boycotting the scouting combine later this month in Indianapolis and refusing to attend the draft in April." The draft "will take place even if there is a lockout because the current labor deal contains a provision for it to be held." However, the agent said that he "believes it's unlikely that players will boycott the combine because those players are yet to be drafted and technically are not members of the union, and potentially could hurt their own draft status." The scouting combine "takes place before the expiration of the current labor deal" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/4). In West Palm Beach, Dave George wrote, "Maybe if April's NFL Draft were in danger of being canceled fans would be all wound up about the whole thing. ... The draft, however, is the only off-season activity that's guaranteed to go on even if there's no new CBA. ... That's enough to keep fans happy for quite a while because the draft stirs an insane amount of interest" (PALM BEACH POST, 2/5). In New Orleans, Peter Finney: "What will the fans say? They’ll say from very little to next to nothing. All the fans are worried about is this: Who do we draft? What free agents do we go after?” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 2/6).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spent the majority of his annual State of the League address Friday answering questions about the league's CBA, which is set to expire on March 4. Goodell said, "I believe the window of opportunity is in the next few weeks to get an agreement that works for everybody. ... We want to get this deal done in the next few weeks. That's where our focus is on." Goodell added, "I have frequently said -- and I will be as clear as I can on this -- this will get resolved at the negotiating table. All of the other public relations, litigation strategies, Congressional strategies, this is about a negotiation. ... We need to have intensive, round-the-clock negotiations. ... I have that sense of urgency." More Goodell: "If we're unsuccessful in getting an agreement by March 4, I expect that the uncertainty will continue which will be bad for our partners, it'll be bad for the players, it'll be bad for the clubs. That uncertainty will lead to, potentially, a reduction in revenue and when that revenue decreases, there will be less for us to share and that'll just make it harder to get an agreement. What we have to do is remove the uncertainty." He added, "I frequently said I think March 4 is a very critical date because a lot of different strategies will take place if we're not successful in getting an agreement by that time" (NFL Network, 2/4). Goodell said that NFL owners "have not made a final decision about whether they will lock out players if the league and union don't agree to an extension of their labor agreement by the time the current deal expires." Goodell: "We have not made any determinations of what will happen on March 4. The ownership is completely focused on getting an agreement that works and is fair to the players and the clubs" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/4).
FAMILIAR TALKING POINTS: In N.Y., Judy Battista noted Goodell Friday "reiterated the familiar talking points from the last 18 months, defending management's push for an 18-game regular season and saying the revenue split with players had swung too far in the union's favor." He also "reiterated that he believed it would be more difficult to complete a new deal if the deadline passes" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/5). Goodell "implored officials from the players' union to get serious about negotiations" (NEWSDAY, 2/5). Goodell said of the proposed 18-game regular season, "We're still staying within our 20-game format. We're not playing 22 games, which is permitted in the current (CBA), by the way." In Houston, John McClain noted Goodell "has been praised for focusing on player safety but criticized for wanting to add two regular-season games, which would increase the players' chances of suffering injuries." Goodell: "You always have to keep safety as a priority, under any format" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/5). When asked about the 18-game season, Goodell said there are no "deal-breakers." But he "repeated support for changing the current format of four exhibitions and 16 regular-season games." Goodell: "The status quo is not acceptable. We have to address these issues going forward." Meanwhile, in Dallas, Gerry Fraley reported the NFL "will look for ways to improve the Rooney Rule, which calls for diversity candidates to be interviewed for major job openings." But Goodell said that he is "pleased with what it has accomplished" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 2/5).
FULLY PREPARED: NFL Network's Michael Lombardi said Goodell Friday was "so well prepared on every single subject," and "nothing caught him by surprise." Lombardi added, "The key element of the direct questioning that he received is March 4 is a serious date ... and he needed to put some power in that date because the only way negotiations occur is when there is a drop dead deadline and I think that was his intent [Friday] to make March 4 a critical, critical day." NFL Network's Jason La Canfora said Goodell's overall comments "seemed to me a sort of end to the rhetoric." La Canfora noted Goodell referred to the NFLPA's efforts to get owners to open their books as a "negotiating ploy," and he said that comment was "pretty strong." La Canfora: "That caught me by surprise, but I kind of felt that was the final shot across the bow" (NFL Network, 2/4). In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro wrote there was a "sense of urgency in the voice" of Goodell on Friday (N.Y. POST, 2/5). In Ft. Worth, Charean Williams noted 18 of the 33 questions asked of Goodell were "related to the March 4 expiration" of the CBA (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 2/5).