The NFL’s “Negotiations Across America” tour is coming to Boston.
Over the last month, players and owners have hop scotched across the country, making stops in suburban Chicago, Long Island and the outskirts of Washington, D.C. as they continue their not-so-secret talks aimed at ending the lockout. On Tuesday, it was reported that the next round of negotiations would take place Wednesday and Thursday in an undisclosed Boston-area suburb. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith will lead both delegations, groups which will include key figures on both sides as they attempt to find a way to end the lockout, which began on March 12 and has become the longest work stoppage in NFL history.
The upcoming Boston talks will come in the wake of a series of discussions between the two sides that have taken place over the last month, talks that have sparked some cautious optimism that a deal could be on the horizon. Goodell, speaking with the media Tuesday afternoon after a five-hour session with the owners in Illinois, sounded relatively upbeat about recent events, saying talks between the “principals” are a “tremendous positive.”
“It was a good day in the sense that we had a full discussion on the issues, and I think our ownership continues to be determined to reach an agreement and play that full season,” Goodell said. “I think it’s a tremendous positive that the principals are talking. Players and owners are talking to one another and negotiating, and I think that’s a positive step. Hopefully we’ll all be successful in reaching an agreement that’s fair and balanced for everybody.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to do it right,” Goodell added. “The agreement that we’re focusing on and negotiating has got to address several issues. Those issues are complex and it needs to be done in a way that is fair to the players, fair to the clubs, and most importantly allows us to continue to have that full 2011 football season. That’s what we want, that’s what the fans want, they want football and it’s our job to try to make that happen.”
According to the Associated Press, the particulars of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that are being discussed include a plan to give the players just under 50 percent of total revenues. In addition, the AP reports that the $1 billion expense credit would no longer be taken off the top by the owners, and there would also be a “salary floor” that would require teams to spend to at least 90 percent of the cap.
“Anytime you’re dealing with the NFL and the 32 clubs with 1,800 players, you’re going to have different perspectives and different elements that people might not see eye to eye on,” Goodell said. “But I think the objective is to get something that works for everybody. It’s not what everybody wants, it’s what everybody needs to reach an agreement that’s fair and balanced and is going to work to make our game better and to continue to grow our game.”
Time is starting to become an issue — training camps are slated to open in late July, and several things must be addressed between now and the start of camps, including free agency and signing the members of the 2011 draft class. Goodell acknowledged that if they wanted to play a full preseason, time was starting to work against them.
“Is there a drop dead date? There isn’t, but obviously, time is moving quickly and we are fast approaching the training camp period,” Goodell said. ”There is an urgency for everybody to get this done.”
“This is the season to get a deal,” Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters. “I think the logic that you’re pushing on both sides is saying why get a deal Oct. 1, or whenever, when you could have had July 7, or whatever.”
(For what it’s worth, Irsay later Tweeted: “I’m just so f--ing excited...but I don’t know why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”)
There was no word as to why the two sides had decided on Boston for their latest series of talks. However, some of that could be due to the fact that, by all accounts, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has become a key player in the process. In a recent CBS Sports column from Mike Freeman, one player was quoted as saying “Kraft and [Giants owner John] Mara are key to a new deal.” In addition, Kraft, who remains one of the most powerful owners in the league, is also seen as one of the most moderate, “big-picture” individuals when it comes to getting a deal done.
The Patriots owner spoke briefly with reporters on the way out of the meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s good that things are moving in the right direction,” Kraft said, “[but] we’ve got a lot of hard work to do.”