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Making sense of the last 12 hours


Of all the crazy nights I’ve experienced in nearly 10 years of doing this, last night was the craziest.

With the representatives of a supposedly toothless trade association gathered since Wednesday in Washington, fully aware that the owners would vote on a labor deal Thursday, it initially appeared that the players simply wanted to make the owners go first, for fear that if the players approved the proposed deal then the owners would try to pull a fast one.

And so the owners went first, and the players quickly claimed that the owners tried to pull a fast one.

The problem seems to be that, because the owners previously have pulled multiple fast ones, the players are understandably leery as the process of striking a decade-long labor deal reaches conclusion. And with NFLPA* leadership focused on digesting the final proposal and making a good decision about how to proceed, it appears that NFLPA* leadership didn’t have the time or the inclination to herd the many cats who took to Twitter and ESPN and NFL Network to send conflicting messages about what comes next.

Part of the problem is that there are conflicting interests among the rank and file. Plenty of guys (especially those without contracts) want to get this done. And plenty of guys who possibly would face losing their starting jobs and/or roster spots if rookies and/or free agents have enough time during training camp to leapfrog the incumbent lineup would like to slow it down for a couple of weeks.

Through it all, and as Morten Andersen Chris Mortensen reported to end the evening, NFLPA* leadership remains optimistic that this will get done. It meshes with the surprisingly positive text message I received last night from a high-ranking NFLPA* source as all hell was breaking loose. The NFLPA* was disappointed that the NFL presented its approval of the deal in a celebratory manner (I think Jags owner Wayne Weaver had tears in his eyes when talking about it on NFL Network), since that put pressure on the players to get something done. But the NFLPA* remained optimistic that it will all work out.

With the Hall of Fame game now canceled and the first preseason games three weeks away, there’s a little more time to work this all out.

The best way to do that will be for the NFL to stop applying public pressure to the players. Even if what the NFL is saying is 100 percent accurate, the players don’t want to hear any of that from the NFL right now. The players want to make their own decision without being told what they should do by league. It’s a basic human-relations reality that the men who run the NFL would be wise to acknowledge and respect.

Besides, let’s not underestimate the possibility that, after being forced to sweat by the owners for more than three years, the players relish the opportunity to make the owners sweat a little, even if it’s only for a day.

Once the parties worked out a revenue split for an ever-growing multi-billion-dollar pie, the hardest and most difficult and contentious issue between them had been resolved. The parties should be able to work out whatever issues remain at the twelfth hour.

That’s not a prediction that they will. But they should be able to.

Especially if NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith is recommending the deal. Apart from what the Executive Committee and the board of player representatives may think, this thing gets done if 50 percent of the players plus one vote for it. If/when the deal gets sent to them with a recommendation from De Smith that they accept it, 50 percent plus one of them definitely will.