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Keeping the lawyers out will be the key to progress

NFL Contract Talks Continue As Deadline Approaches

WASHINGTON - MARCH 10: Bob Batterman (L), NFL outside labor counsel, Jeff Pash (R), NFL executive vice president and general council, arrive at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building March 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. Representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) continue to negotiate a labor dispute during a 7 day extension of talks. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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Somehow, the NFL and the NFLPA* found a way to meet for the last two days without any lawyers present. It’s something for which key figures on each side of the dispute have been clamoring for months, dating back to influential and respected Patriots owner Robert Kraft, in the days preceding the Super Bowl.

“In my opinion, we could get a deal done in the next week,” Kraft said in early February. “If business people sat down on both sides, and we tried to get the lawyers in the background. . . . Get lawyers away from table. Lawyers are deal breakers, not deal makers.”

Moving forward, the challenge will be to continue to talk without the lawyers potentially screwing things up with their overthinking and/or hidden agendas. It’s a door that swings both ways, with the importance of keeping lead players’ counsel Jeffrey Kessler away from the process equal to the importance of keeping NFL general counsel Jeff Pash away from the process. Ditto for Jim Quinn on the players’ side and Bob Batterman on the league’s side.

That’s not intended to be a slap at any of those four men. It’s just a reflection of the reality that the folks charged with making important decisions and then living with them have developed strong feelings regarding the lawyers working for the other side. The smart move, then, is to get the lawyers out of the room, regardless of whether the perceptions regarding the motivations of the lawyers are or aren’t accurate.

As to the perceptions applicable to the key lawyers in this controversy, there’s a strong sense that the players simply don’t trust Pash or Batterman. Even if both men are completely trustworthy in all matters great and small, rebuilding trust between the NFL and the players is far more important at this point that tiptoeing around Pash’s or Batterman’s feelings. It’s time to get a deal done, and thus it’s time for anyone who may be an impediment to the process to happily stand down.

Ditto for Kessler, who widely is perceived in management circles as hoping to shove down the players’ throats an agenda of litigation without negotiation, in the hopes of eventually securing a mammoth, landmark antitrust award that can then be leveraged into the most player-friendly deal in the history of sports, securing his legacy as the next Marvin Miller -- and simultaneously squandering one or two years of the football careers of the men whom Kessler is supposed to be representing.

It’s an easy solution, then. The league benches Pash and Batterman, the NFLPA* benches Kessler, and the business people focus on the business of doing a business deal, sooner rather than later.

Congrats to the two sides for apparently figuring this one out. Let’s see if it sticks.