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Why would NFL, NFLPA pull the plug on three days of CBA talks?

Mike Florio

A three-day collective bargaining session set for this week suddenly became a one-day event, capped by a nothing-to-see-here joint statement from the NFL and the NFL Players Association calling the meeting “productive, constructive, and beneficial” for both sides (it always sound better with three adjectives).

Let’s think about that one for a second. The two sides set aside three days for the purposes of chipping away at a mountain of issues between management and labor, but they abruptly pressed pause during the first day on supposedly “productive, constructive, and beneficial” talks, interrupting an apparently positive vibe while waiting 12 days to resume.

It makes no sense, and it makes me wonder what’s really going on.

Here’s a theory/hypothesis/whatever: The initial three CBA sessions from April through June were about establishing a positive tone and perhaps kicking around some ideas (like 18 games with a 16-game per-player limit), creating the impression that everyone is getting along. Then came Wednesday’s session, when for the first time the league and the union got down to business on the biggest issues, like the overall revenue split (the most important issue) and the bigger-than-most-in-the-media-realize concept of stadium credits (which necessarily impacts the revenue split by taking money off the top).

If they were truly making progress on these key issues, wouldn’t they keep going? And if the truth is (as it may be) that they quickly realized a brick wall was looming, would it make sense to pull the plug before things got ugly, pretend that the positive vibe still exists, and then retreat to their respective corners to figure out how to proceed on July 29, when the interpersonal dynamics necessarily will be streamlined by the absence of members of the NFLPA Executive Committee who will be at training camp?

That’s my guess as to what happened. Those initial three sessions were all about preemptively taking the heat out of the kitchen before the kitchen could get hot, and now there’s a mutual sense that the temperature is starting to increase.

If my guess is right (and everyone once in a while one of my guesses is), it shouldn’t surprise anyone. CBA talks always entail a certain amount of animosity, pain, and strife. In this case, it’s fair to wonder whether the NFL and NFLPA have decided to shield the public from potential ugliness that helps no one, as the parties try to work out a new deal while acting like everything is working perfectly well.

It’s an ambitious goal, if that’s indeed the goal. Too ambitious. Because it’s obvious that, even though the NFL couches a new labor deal as an “extension” of the current one, it’s not nearly as simple as both sides agreeing that everything is working and that they should recommit for another eight to 10 years.

The NFL will want to make significant changes to the 2011 CBA, and the NFLPA will want to make significant changes to it as well. At some point, there’s a battle that will need to be engaged or the talks never will be resolved. That first battle may be coming on July 29 . . . even if after a knock-down-drag-out encounter the two sides stagger out of the room like Balboa and Creed and claim that they were merely running on the beach.