The preseason is officially in danger of dying. With an unofficial deadline to save the Hall of Fame Game looming at the end of this week, the lawyers for the NFL and the trade organization formerly known as the NFLPA have returned to face-to-face negotiations, but the doom-and-gloom reports continue to pour in.
Yesterday, Dan Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal reported via Twitter that “talks are at best a week away from a deal now,” which helped explain why the two sides won’t reportedly be meeting with mediating judge Arthur Boylan until July 19.
So at this point, there’s a very real chance that the league will have to push back the beginning of the preseason. We don’t want to overreact to the negative reports that have stemmed from what sounded like a very unproductive bargaining session Friday (things can change very quickly), but it’s beginning to look as though the July 15 “deadline” may be out of reach.
So here’s the deal: The lawyers will once again bat leadoff, before Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and their staffs join the fray on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to multiple reports. Barring something unforeseen, the discussions should last all week. Next week, Boylan will meet with both sides on Tuesday the 19th, and the owners are scheduled to meet in Atlanta two days later on the 21st. The Rams and Bears are slated to begin their training camps two days after that, on the 23rd.
The goal, it seems, is to have a deal ratified during those meetings on July 21. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN report that a document entitled “The Transition Rules” pegs the 21st as the ratification date and July 28 as the target date for the start of free agency.
A 54-page ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was a factor in the slowing of progress Friday, but the rookie wage scale continues to be the sticking point that is truly holding up the process. If the players are going to agree to major final concessions for first-round picks, they’re insisting on a restriction that would limit first-round contracts to four years (the owners want five).
“The rookie wage scale is the only part I’m worried about,” a source involved in the talks told ESPN. “They’ve finished the other important parts. The only issue left that can cause a problem is the rookie wage scale.”
It’s funny that the only group that really doesn’t have a seat at the table is the one stalling these discussions. The vast majority of the players fighting this battle have already received their rookie contracts, but they’re letting the rookie payment system drive an even larger wedge between them and the owners. I suppose that has a lot to do with what will essentially be an ass-backwards trickle-down effect that starts with top picks and ends with veteran free agents.
Anyway, the fight continues. Let’s hope we’re entering the final round.