SBJ/Dec. 20-26, 2010/This Week's Issue

‘It’s going to be a long spring’: Sources see little progress from NFL labor negotiations

With just over three months remaining until the end of the NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement, there has been almost no progress between the NFL and NFLPA on a new deal, despite a recent spate of meetings, league sources said.

That message is consistent with what union executive director DeMaurice Smith told agents last week, and contradicts several recent optimistic comments made by league representatives, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Jeff Pash, the league’s chief negotiator.

“It’s going to be a long spring,” predicted a well-placed league source, indicating that there is likely to be no deal before the CBA expires on March 4. “There has not been much in the way of progress. Not much in the way of progress, at all.”

Even Commissioner Roger Goodell, in his press conference after last Wednesday’s special league meeting, took pains to distinguish between the talks that have occurred and productive ones.

“The reality is there is discussion going on, but it takes productive dialogue,” he said. “It is not just about meetings and dialogue, but getting significant dialogue.”

With that as the backdrop, some teams have begun planning for a future without a labor deal. The Houston Texans have what they call a CBA-response team, said the team’s president, Jamey Rootes. The response team comprises team executives who communicate with key partners of the team, from government agencies to sponsors and ticket holders.

Like several teams interviewed for this article, the Texans do not have a formal plan in place yet. The Denver Broncos will finalize their plan after the season ends, said team Chief Operating Officer Joe Ellis.

The Dallas Cowboys have significant efforts under way to respond to a lockout, said Stephen Jones, the team’s chief operating officer, but he declined to detail the plans.

Some teams do not want their plans to get out during the season for fear they might be an emotional downer for their squads. Others are simply worried they will be painted by the union as preparing for a lockout rather than looking to avoid one.

“Uncertainty. That is not a good thing for fans, for business partners, for potential for revenues,” Goodell said. “It can be damaging to the game, and that is something we are trying to avoid.”

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