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Saturday labor meeting gives reason for optimism


As the PFT rental bus began the trek from Dallas back to PFT headquarters, we saw John Clayton on ESPN discussing the labor situation. And he seemed to be trying to create the impression that he’s the only guy who is optimistic that a deal will be done by the end of March.

He’s not.

On Monday, Tom Curran joined PFT Live, and he and the host of the show, an Internet hack with whom you may be familiar, agreed that a new agreement could be coming in March.

The joint statement issued by the league and the union on Saturday strongly hints that the two sides agree on the most important threshold issue: the moment at which the clock strikes 12.

“We plan to increase the number, length and intensity of bargaining sessions so that we can reach agreement before the March 4 expiration of the current CBA,” the NFL and the NFLPA said.

We’ve been saying it for two years, dating back to a certain appearance on a certain league-owned broadcasting operation in a certain Florida city that was certainly more pleasant from a weather standpoint than the place we all left on Monday morning. No deal can be done until the two sides agree on the deadline, since neither side will begin to move toward a bottom-line position if the other side thinks that the time to do the deal hasn’t arrived.

It appears that the league finally has persuaded the union to treat March 4 as the deadline, and that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has decided that he doesn’t need to provoke a fight in order to have credibility with the rank and file.

That said, there’s one issue that could create some consternation. If March 4 arrives without an extension of the current CBA, which was and still is the settlement agreement of the antitrust case filed by Reggie White and others many years ago, Judge David Doty’s jurisdiction over the relationship between the two parties ends. Given that the league has tried to have Judge Doty bounced based on the perception that he has a union bias, the NFL surely would like to find a way to do a Doty-free deal. The union, on the other hand, surely would like to keep Doty involved.

In the end, it’s another bargaining chip between the two sides, and one of the only sources of true leverage for the players, especially in the wake of last week’s unfavorable rulings in the “lockout insurance” case and the health insurance grievance. With the two sides committed to getting something done by March 4, it’s reasonable to think that they’ll try to work through these issues, possibly with the same type of extension that was used five years ago to get a deal done during the month of March.