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League may be setting up the union for a March 4 surprise

DeMarcus Smith

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith leaves a meeting with the NFL Competition Committee in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


The NFL Players Association has been operating under the express assumption that the owners will implement a lockout at midnight on March 4, the moment the current labor agreement expires. Last week, NFL outside labor lawyer Bob Batterman said that the union wants to force a lockout, so that the union may then unleash strategies aimed at forcing a deal via litigation and political pressure.

Last year, lawyer David Cornwell was the first to suggest that the NFL’s plan won’t be to launch a work stoppage. Instead, Cornwell explained that the league will declare an impasse in the talks and impose on the players the terms of the last, best offer made by management. The players, who have been accusing the NFL of trying to take football away from the fans, would then have to decide whether to accept the rules or to go on strike, which would amount to the players taking football away from the fans.

Before the NFL can implement its last, best, pre-impasse offer, there has to be an impasse. And it’s starting to look like the owners will soon be able to declare that an impasse exists.

But the impasse, if it’s coming, won’t arise from a disagreement as to the substance of the talks. It will arise from the persistent inability of the two sides to agree to engage in meaningful talks on the real issues that need to be resolved.

That’s possibly why NFL General Counsel Jeff Pash spent time at his Tuesday press conference, held in conjunction with the ownership meeting in Atlanta, to talk about the lack of meetings between the NFL and the union.

“The owners have the bit in their teeth,” Pash said. “They want an agreement.” He also explained that the owners “need to see a parallel commitment by our negotiating partner,” and that enough time remains to get a deal done by March 4 -- if the union will work with the league on coming up with meeting dates.

“I’m like a high school kid,” Pash told reporters. “I’m always ready for a date.”

The union fueled the potential argument that an impasse already has been reached via comments given on Tuesday night by NFLPA spokesman George Atallah to Alex Marvez of

What point is there sitting down beating ourselves over the head when they’re saying, ‘We want $1 billion [in player salaries] back,’ and when we ask why they say, ‘Because we said so’?” Atallah said.

In other words, there’s no point in meeting. In other words, there’s an impasse.

Though much can happen between now and March 4, the league seems to be doing a nice job of laying the foundation to declare an impasse and to impose on March 4 the exact opposite of a lockout.