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Onus falls on owners to get deal done

Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, Jerry Richardson, Pat Bowlen, Mark Murphy

** THIS CORRECTS THAT MARK MURPHY IS THE GREEN BAY PACKERS TEAM PRESIDENT AND CEO, NOT THE OWNER** NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, is accompanied by NFL owners from left, Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, Carolina Panthers’ Jerry Richardson, Denver Broncos Pat Bowlen and Green Bay Packers’ team president and chief executive officer Mark Murphy as they prepare to cross a street to the federal courthouse Tuesday, April 19, 2011 in Minneapolis where the NFL and its locked-out football players continue court-ordered mediation. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Jim Mone/AP

We painted earlier today a fairly rosy picture of the current status of the labor negotiations, based on the four straight days of talks with no players or owners present -- and the decision of the two key figures in the labor dispute to behave like old friends, not mortal enemies, via their trip to Florida for Roger Goodell’s appearance at the seminar for the rookies organized by DeMaurice Smith.

Since then, we’ve learned from a source with knowledge of the dynamics on both sides of the table that the process remains, relatively speaking, far from over. And the blame for the delay is being placed on the owners.

Per the source, a deal could have been done a week or two ago, but the owners have been playing games with some of the numbers, possibly relying upon the emergence and strengthening sense that the players are ready to get a deal done in order to squeeze the players on some of the smaller issues.

So what’s going on this week, featuring four days of talks without owners and players? It could be that Goodell and Smith have opted to take full charge of the process in the hopes of ironing out all of the things on which the parties agree, and then to generate a list of the things on which they still disagree. Then, the owners and players can return next week and knock out the remaining list of issues to be resolved, with Goodell and Smith pushing hard for their respective constituents to be fair.

If that’s the case, those issues need to be identified worked out by the end of next week, in order to then allow the various approvals to be obtained in time to have meaningful free agency before the first of the training camps open. Even then, a one-week lag between striking a deal and obtaining approval from the court in Minnesota would leave the Bears and Rams roughly a week to sign their rookies and free agents before opening camp in advance of the Hall of Fame game.

Though we’ve got no problem with the two sides trying to get a good deal, we’re hoping that the sense of trust and friendship that has emerged between Goodell and Smith will infect the entire process, and that the owners won’t take advantage of the perception of inevitability in order to take advantage of the players as to various details that could derail a deal.

That responsibility on the owners ultimately lands on the lap of Goodell, who now must show true leadership in persuading the folks to whom he answers to not push so hard on the minor issues to possibly prevent a deal from being finalized.