NFL Players' Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, right,… (Brian Blanco / Associated…)
That tick-tick-ticking you hear is either the final days of the NFL's lockout or the winding down of a time bomb. With training camps scheduled to begin in less than a month, Times' NFL writer Sam Farmer asks and answers some of the pertinent questions about pro football's labor fight:
When will this labor deal get done?
Here's betting it's worked out by the middle of July, if not sooner. Both sides have indicated they have made significant progress in several areas, and I'm optimistic they will hammer out an agreement in time to save both training camps and exhibition games. The constant revolving door of participants — owners, players, lawyers and executives from both sides — suggests the talks, while they might be tenuous, are very fluid. If they're stagnant, that's trouble.
But a reliable report last week had DeMaurice Smith, head of the former union, holding a conference call with high-profile players and telling them a deal isn't close. What do you make of that?
The deal isn't done until it's done. There's no sense in revving up the players by telling them things are close, and that momentum could be counterproductive. If you give up the threat of walking away from the bargaining table, you've lost whatever unresolved points remain on that table.
So that was a smoke screen?
No, but both sides are being careful to stay on their toes. Things are extremely fragile at this point, and even if most of the signs are good, this progress could easily disintegrate. Considering the frantic pace of negotiations, we should know one way or another in the next two weeks — either there's a deal or a meltdown. This is complex, but it isn't Middle East peace.
The first regular-season game is more than two months away. Why the urgency now?
It would be a big hassle to compress training camps, but the real pain would come in canceling exhibition games, which, from the owners' perspective, is the easiest money in sports. In the scam of all scams, they charge full price for meaningless games in which they sit the stars, play the scrubs, and pay peanuts to everyone on the roster. Wiping out a week of preseason games would be incredibly costly and would mean less money in the system, hence increasing the difficulty of striking a deal.
From a fans' perspective, how will a new labor agreement change things — other than the obvious lifting of the lockout?
Not much. The concept of an 18-game regular season — along with the myth that fans were clamoring for it — is either dead or in deep freeze. Rookies almost certainly will be making less on their first contracts, but those deals are likely to be shorter and the players will get to free agency sooner. Other than that, it's football.
So what happens when an agreement is reached? Will the free agency period begin right away?
Free agency would begin promptly, but not instantly. Because it was a small group of players — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning among them — who filed a class-action antitrust suit on behalf of every player in the league, it's not as simple as quickly agreeing to a deal and moving on. Before the court approves a settlement, the league will need at least 24 of 32 owners to ratify it and each of the roughly 1,800 players has to be notified of all the terms, given ample time to review it, and even have the opportunity to opt out. That said, if Smith isn't going to get virtual unanimity on the deal from the players, he wouldn't agree to it in the first place.
Regardless, nothing will happen at lightning speed.
So will a settlement become the new collective bargaining agreement?
The settlement becomes a so-called consent decree — the sides consent, the judge decrees — and it probably would be a built-in requirement that the players re-certify as a union. Then, the union could sit down with the owners and negotiate and new CBA that mirrors the settlement.
Last time, it was U.S. District Judge David Doty who maintained jurisdiction over the CBA and all issues that came out of it. Would it be the same arrangement this time?
The owners would fight that to their last breath. They've tried for years to rid themselves of Doty, who's now retired but for his NFL obligations, and they would push for the National Labor Relations Board to have jurisdiction over any disputes arising from the agreement, as is the case with most CBAs.
From the owners' perspective, why is the NLRB preferable?
The short answer: It's not Doty.
When the dust settles, will we know which side won?
Keep in mind, the players would have stayed with the old agreement. This will not be a case of who wins — the owners will wind up with the improved deal — but by how much.
That said, when you win a labor battle, one of the worst things you can do is gloat. There won't be any end-zone dances when this is over. Owners and players have to act like partners again and will want to get past the bad blood as quickly as possible.
When that day comes, you can expect a very happy press release saying how they worked it out for the fans and for the good of the game.
Resist the urge to roll your eyes.