SBD/July 11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 122: Both Sides Hoping To Reach Deal By July 21

There is a "growing belief inside league circles" that the NFL and NFLPA "will have an agreement in place that can be ratified during the July 21 league meetings in Atlanta," according to Mortensen & Schefter of ESPN.com. Sources close to the talks "think an agreement in principle will be put in place in the next seven to 10 days, a handshake deal that would allow each side to ratify the deal" to start the '11 season. An NFL team owner this weekend said there is "no reason to believe it won't get done." One member of the players' negotiating committee contends that negotiations Wednesday and Thursday "will be the most telling days on whether an agreement indeed will be finalized within the July 21 time frame." Mortensen & Schefter note the "level of overall confidence in reaching an agreement also is evident in a document known as 'The Transition Rules' that NFL teams would follow if and when both players and owners ratify a new labor agreement." Those guidelines "spell out an actual timeline for roster transactions under the July 21 deal scenario, including the start of the new league year during which free agents would become eligible for the open market on July 28." If a deal is in fact ratified July 21, "all training camps would be able to open on time," and sources indicated that it would "assure that almost all preseason games would be played" (ESPN.com, 7/11).

MEET ME IN MINNEAPOLIS
: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reported U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan on Saturday ordered NFL owners and players "to meet with him July 19 in Minneapolis if they haven't been able to work out a settlement in the meantime." The NFL and players "would seem to need an agreement by around Friday to save the entire 2011 season as scheduled, but there was so little urgency exhibited by both parties that they recessed talks between the key figures over the weekend and won't resume until Tuesday at the earliest." News of the break in talks "didn't appear to go over well with Boylan, who made his announcement as he was departing on a previously-scheduled vacation." Boylan said that sides "were welcome to reach an agreement between themselves before July 19, a not-so-subtle hint to both parties that they should get back to the bargaining table" (N.Y. POST, 7/10). Boylan's date for the next mediation is "four days after the self-imposed deadline to start the preseason on time." He also ordered attorneys from both sides "to be ready to meet with him on the evening of July 18 'for an in-person agenda-setting session' that presumably would set the stage for meaningful, fruitful talks the following day." If the league and players "have not reached a deal by the time they are scheduled to meet with Boylan in Minneapolis, it could be bad news for training camps and perhaps even preseason games" (ESPN.com, 7/10).

NOT MUCH FRIDAY PROGRESS: NFL.com's Albert Breer reported owners and players "wrapped up a frustrating couple of days in Manhattan with 10 hours of talks Friday that didn't produce much." Sources said that there "was little to no progress on the core issues the parties had hoped to break through in constructing a new labor deal." There was scheduled to be some "communication between the parties over the weekend -- it's not considered a 'weekend off' -- but the next set of face-to-face labor talks won't occur" until today. Legal teams and staff from each side will meet today in Manhattan, "with the owners and players expected to join them Tuesday or Wednesday." Breer noted "adversely affecting Friday's talks was the late-morning ruling" from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which "overturned U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's April decision to issue an injunction to lift the lockout" (NFL.com, 7/10). In N.Y., Judy Battista cited a source as saying that the "timing of the court’s opinion -- issued in the morning -- was 'awful' and 'not helpful' to the talks, unsettling them just as the sides hoped to finish discussions on the revenue split, the heart of the dispute." The source said that the court's decision "emboldened the hawks among both parties," even "inspiring some owners to want more concessions from players, and some on the players’ side to want to press their case, with the prospect that the court could allow antitrust damages" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/9). Shortly after the ruling was announced, the two sides "issued a joint statement saying they were committed to resolving the labor impasse at the bargaining table" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/9).

Rookie compensation system slowing down
negotiations in NFL CBA talks
HIT THE BRAKES
: In DC, Mark Maske cited sources as saying that "differences between the two sides on how a rookie compensation system would work contributed heavily to the talks slowing Friday during a negotiating session in New York." The league "wants to significantly curb the amount of guaranteed money in the contracts of players selected early" in the NFL Draft. Sources said that the players are "willing to agree to a system that diverts money from rookies to veterans," but they are "resisting a system as restrictive as what the league is seeking" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/10). The N.Y. TIMES' Battista reports the "rookie wage system, once thought to be a secondary issue to the overall division of revenues, emerged in recent days as a significant stumbling block, bogging down talks last Friday." The disagreement "centers on the amount of money and the length of the contracts given to players selected in the first round, who sign the biggest contracts with the most guaranteed money" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/11). But YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole on Friday reported there were some "positive notes to take away from the past couple of days." NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler "expressed cautious optimism during a call with his clients on Thursday." Also, sources indicated that Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, "like Kessler, is also suddenly working toward resolution after long being perceived as a hardliner by the players." Cole noted the "vast majority of owners look" to Jones and Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "for guidance." Last week, the players were "happy to see Jones and Kraft in lockstep over getting a deal done." Cole: "In many respects, Jones and Kraft are more powerful than NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. ... It’s Jones and Kraft who really have the ear of their brethren" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/8).

EYES ON THE CLOCK: Steelers S Ryan Clark after a conference call with other player reps on Friday said that he is "optimistic the longest labor stoppage in NFL history is close to getting settled." Clark: "People on the outside are getting more optimistic the more the media talks about it, but for those of us on the inside, for those of us in the know, we've been excited" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/9). But free agent LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, an alternate player rep for the Bears, said, "We are not on the cusp of a deal. The sides have gotten closer and we're continuing to talk and we're taking less breaks between talks. All of those things are good signs, but we don't want guys to think, 'Good, a deal is going to get done next week so I can start spending money like I would if I was going to be getting a paycheck in a month'" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/10). In Boston, Greg Bedard noted when negotiations resume today, "both sides will be up against a real deadline." If the lockout goes past Friday, the preseason "would be in jeopardy." This week's talks are "not expected to include" Boylan, who went on vacation this weekend (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/9). In Denver, Jeff Legwold wrote under the header, "Clock Ticking For NFL To Get A Deal" (DENVER POST, 7/10). Agent Pat Dye Jr. on Friday said, "It serves as a real impetus in negotiations when there’s a chance you’re going to start losing money. There’s a golden goose out there. They have to figure a way out of this" (AJC.com, 7/9).
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