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NFL, NFLPA making progress toward deal on reducing Commissioner power, maybe

Mike Florio examines the changes that could be coming to the NFL player disciplinary process.

In September, Steelers owner Art Rooney II threw water on the notion that the Commissioner’s role in connection with meting out discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy and for conduct detrimental to the game would be limited, saying that adjustments would come not in months but years.

Six months later, some progress perhaps is being made toward an agreement. The headline from Monday night’s item written by Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal declares that the two sides are “closer"to a deal “stripping” Goodell of his disciplinary power. The textmakes it less clear whether the two sides are actually any closer to a deal -- and whether any deal is coming sooner than later.

“We’ve been talking about changes to the personal conduct policy since October and have traded proposals,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told Futterman. “We looked at the league’s proposal for neutral arbitration. There is a common ground for us to get something done.”

Said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy to Futterman: “This is an important area that deserves to be addressed thoughtfully and with full consideration for everyone’s interests -- players, clubs and fans. We are addressing the subject in a serious way and will continue to discuss this directly with the union and not in the media.”

Smith said that the players would not likely agree to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement in exchange for a consensus on this issue. But the reality is that the NFL most likely will want something in exchange for sacrificing one of its current rights under the labor deal; that’s one of the basic elements of the collective bargaining process that flows from employees unionizing.

One possible exchange would be the NFL agreeing to defer appeals of discipline for Personal Conduct Policy violations and conduct detrimental to the game to neutral arbitration in exchange for granting the league the power to impose suspensions on players who have failed to cooperate with or affirmatively obstructed NFL investigations.

That’s a possible deal,” Smith said on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk on the day of the 2015 regular-season opener. “We believe that every player, just like every employee, has a duty to reasonably cooperate with an investigation. If that’s something that wants to come out of the league office, and they think that’s good grounds for us to make a deal, then I’ll come back and shake your hand on live TV if we get it done.”

The final outcome may hinge on whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirms or reverses the decision to scrap the four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, which happened in part due to the unprecedented nature of the imposition of a suspension for failure to cooperate with an investigation. If Judge Richard Berman’s decision is upheld, then the NFL would need to secure the power to suspend players for lying to the NFL or refusing to produce cell phones or other evidence, and that could be the swap the union makes in order to secure arbitration on the last remaining areas where the Commissioner has judge/jury/executioner powers.

That’s the one point to remember as the two sides work toward a possible deal. On all other matters of player discipline -- on-field infractions, violations of the substance-abuse policy, and PED use -- the NFLPA already has secured neutral arbitration. The protracted litigation arising from suspensions imposed on players like Brady and Adrian Peterson shows that it’s in the NFL’s best interests to develop a procedure that allows a swift, efficient, and certain outcome.