Federal Mediator Says "Very Strong Differences Remain" Between NFL, Players
Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen Thursday said "some progress" has been made in the CBA negotiations between the NFL and the players' union, but "very strong differences remain" on the core issues of the dispute, according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. Cohen said in a statement, "I recommended and the parties have agreed to resume the mediation process in my office commencing next Tuesday. ... During the intervening weekend, the parties have been asked by us to assess their current positions on those outstanding issues." League and union reps "met at the agency's offices in downtown DC on each of the past seven days." The owners are "scheduled to meet next Wednesday and Thursday at a hotel near Dulles Airport." The current CBA is set to expire March 4, though the league and union "could agree to postpone the deadline for a new deal if progress toward an agreement has been made by then." Maske wrote, "Perhaps more than ever, the sport appears headed to a labor confrontation between the owners and players, with Cohen's involvement in the negotiations so far failing to produce an agreement between the two sides about how much of the sport's approximately $9 billion in annual revenues should go to the players under a salary cap system" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/24).
ALL FOR SHOW? ESPN's Chris Mortensen said, "Public relations is a part of this factor, certainly, between these two sides." When the two sides meet "for seven days and even the mediator comes out and says there remains strong differences on the all-important core issues, they're not going to resolve those issues right away." Mortensen: "There's certainly a sense that maybe this is stringing along to prevent the union for filing for decertification. ... Right now both sides (are) preparing very much for a work stoppage" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 2/24). Cohen "asked the two sides to 'assess their current positions on those outstanding issues' before mediation resumes," and in N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano writes if the two sides "remain entrenched on those issues -- which include the NFL's desire to cut the percentage of revenues directed towards players and the possibility of an 18-game season -- a lockout will almost certainly occur" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/25).
UNCERTAINTY AHEAD: In N.Y., Judy Battista reports NFL coaches have said publicly that they are "preparing for a normal off-season." But privately, teams that have made coaching changes or that "will have considerable roster overhauls are concerned that a lockout will put them at a competitive disadvantage against more established teams, especially those with established quarterbacks" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/25). FANHOUSE.com's Dan Graziano noted in the event of a lockout, players "would not be allowed access to team facilities, coaches or trainers." There would be "no minicamps, no OTAs, no chance for the teams with new coaching staffs to install their new systems at a normally critical time of year." There also would be "no free agency," which means evaluating draft prospects at this week's NFL Combine "may take on even greater importance than usual." Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio: "Clearly, there are some things that would have to be addressed, but we don't have to address them now. We're just trying to prepare for the draft and go through the normal preparations we would always be going through this time of year" (FANHOUSE.com, 2/24). Meanwhile, NFL Coaches Association Exec Dir Larry Kennan predicted that in the absence of a new CBA, "many teams likely will start docking the pay of their coaches." Kennan: "In almost every coach's contract, there are lockout clauses. In the event of a lockout March 4, coaches will take a pay cut in varying degrees, team-by-team" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/25).