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Report: “Breakthrough” in talks

Carl Eller

Minnesota Vikings Hall of Fame football player Carl Eller talks to reporters outside the federal courthouse Thursday, April 14, 2011, in Minneapolis, as the NFL and its locked-out players met in court-ordered mediation. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)


And so when it appeared that no progress would be or could be made in mediation with both sides aiming for leverage in lieu of compromise -- indeed, Steelers Art Rooney, II, said so on his way into Monday’s talks -- it’s fitting in this crazy up-and-down, back-and-forth process that on a day when no one expected progress to be made, progress apparently has been made.

Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reports, citing Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, that a breakthrough has occurred in the negotiations. Eller, who is one of the named plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by former players and consolidated with the Tom Brady antitrust case, said that U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan asked the owners at the outset of the day to make a new proposal, and the owners have agreed to do so.

Currently, the proposal is being formulated. Per Paolantonio, the players are very encouraged by the developments, and we think they should be. Given that the players never responded to the league’s March 11 offer, the NFL easily could have balked at the request to make a new offer as an invitation to bid against itself. By agreeing to make a new offer, the NFL has shown good faith, which possibly has helped to thaw the relationship between the two sides, at least a little.

The mediation will continue on Monday night until 9:00 p.m. CT, and Paolantonio said the overall mood is improving. The session is scheduled to continue tomorrow only. If real progress is being made, here’s hoping that gets extended.

Whether at this unlikeliest of junctures in the labor dispute a deal can be reached hinges largely on the quality of the offer that the owners make. In many non-economic respects, the offer extended on March 11 was well within the appropriate ballpark, including player-friendly terms like a tabling of the 18-game season for at least two years and the use of third-party arbitration in drug and steroids cases. The key will be, and has been, the money; if the NFL is willing to make firm guarantees on a per-team salary cap with a tight floor and a fair split on the so-called “true up” (i.e., any money earned over and above the league’s revenue projection), a deal could be struck.

There’s still a long way to go, especially since both sides as of this morning seemed to be intent on letting it ride through the Eighth Circuit’s ruling on the lifting of the lockout. Also, the progress came before the ruling on the motion to stay the ruling lifting the lockout; at this point, the impact of that ruling isn’t known. Still, the only way to get a deal that both sides truly deem to be satisfactory comes from leveraging the uncertainty into a compromise, and abandoning the quest for the kind of leverage that necessarily will require the side without it to do a bad deal, which would put us right back in this same mess before too long.