As the NFL lockout creeps toward the point of no return, signs of progress between players and owners are picking up. Just read the quotes from league sources in Don Banks' latest Inside the NFL column on the labor situation. The tone has changed. They're not talking about the difference in total revenue or the dates of upcoming legal proceedings.
They're talking about punching it into the end zone.
"I'd say that back in March, we weren't in the same stadium," said one league source of the players and owners. "But if you think of both sides as a team, now we're in the red zone, we're driving, we can see the goal line and we have momentum. But can we still screw it up? Absolutely. That's why [Thursday] and Friday are big days, because it's back to the (negotiating) formula that's been most successful."
"It does feel like we're at the 5-yard line, and we're right there," one NFL general manager said Wednesday. "But it's like Jerome Bettis has the ball, and I've seen him fumble on the 1-yard line before. If there's a fumble now, hopefully either Goodell or Smith plays Ben Roethlisberger and stops the whole thing from falling apart."
Okay, so nobody is willing to go out on a limb and say a new collective bargaining agreement is essentially a done deal, but a sure sign everybody is getting pretty excited is when the financial and legal jargon is replaced by football lingo. If you've been following this crisis from day one, you may know better than to get your hopes up by now, but take a look at the list of game changing plays that have gone down over the last week or so (courtesy of PFT):
- - The Pro Football Hall of Fame is still planning to hold the preseason opener on August 7, adding both the players and owners want to play the game. Not having the nationally televised game would result in the first major loss of revenue since the lockout began.
- - The players' lawyers in the Tom Brady antitrust case renegotiated their contracts, and it's believed they will now be paid a flat fee regardless of outcome. This suggests the players will not go through with the suit, as the lawyers basically would be surrendering money over an extended period of time.
- - The owners are currently scheduled to meet on July 21, but a source informed PFT they would convene sooner if a deal were ready. 24 of the 32 owners must vote to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement.
- - The lawyers for both sides have been meeting throughout this week, even working overtime yesterday, as they apparently have begun preparing the actual paperwork that will eventually become the CBA.
Another great sign is the Eagles' unofficial mid-June deadline to decide whether they would hold training camp at Lehigh came and went without so much of a peep from either the team or the University. It was reported they would like to reach a decision one way or the other before now, but much has happened since then, with negotiations finally taking place in earnest over the past month to month-and-a-half.
Les Bowen interviewed Eagles COO Don Smolenski, who is responsible for organizing the annual retreat to Bethlehem, and he sounded very much like a man who will be--and perhaps already is--busy with preparations.
"So far, the dialogue has been, 'We're going to go with it, we're going to do the best we can with whatever date comes,' " he said.
When it comes down to it, camp is probably going to be held at Lehigh as planned, as will the 2011 NFL season. There is simply too much money involved for either side to walk away from, and after all, that's what this whole thing is about. Could negotiations still break down faster than Dimitri Patterson in coverage? Nobody has been willing to take a leap of faith on the record whether those fears have merit or not.
But they want you to know it's not a Hail Mary pass or 60-yard field goal into the wind. I think everybody secretly would like to bet on professional football completing the fourth quarter comeback.
>> NFL labor negotiations 'at the 5-yard line' [SI.com]
>> His job is to keep Linc jumpin' and Eagles ready to spring to action [Philly.com]