Fifth day of talks is a “big day” for progress

AP

In response to multiple reports that the NFLPA has decided to cancel a key meeting with a select group of agents on Thursday in Indianapolis to allow the union to devote Thursday to the ongoing talks, we’re told that the move came because Tuesday, the fifth straight day of negotiations, was a “big day” at the bargaining table.

Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal initially reported that the meeting with a hand-picked collection of agents won’t occur, due to the ongoing negotiations.  Mark Maske of the Washington Post has confirmed the news.

We’ve confirmed the confirmation, for what that’s worth.  Coupled with the news that some sort of a breakthrough occurred on the fifth day of the talks, there’s reason for optimism as the deadline for getting a deal done approaches the single digits.

The Thursday meeting with a small group of agents would have served as a precursor to Friday’s all-hands meeting with every certified agent, and it would have entailed union leadership reviewing key issues with the agents before sharing information with all of them.

The NFLPA typically conducts an advance meeting with some agents on the Thursday of the Scouting Combine before conducting the larger meeting on Friday.  This year, the NFLPA has made the Friday meeting mandatory for all contract agents.

Scant details remain available regarding specific areas of progress and/or the basis for Tuesday’s breakthrough.  Our guess is that, after spending the first few days focused primarily on reaching agreement  on issues about which there is less controversy, mediator George H. Cohen focused the two sides on one or more of the core issues:  (1) carving up the financial pie; (2) length of the regular season; (3) the rookie wage scale; and (4) the ability of U.S. Judge David Doty to resolve future disputes regarding the terms of the contract between the league and the union.

The decision to cancel the Thursday meeting with the agents means that, barring an unexpected turn, the two sides will continue to negotiate through Thursday, fulfilling their agreement to meet for seven straight days, which came out of the blue after more than seven days of no meetings.

It’ll be interesting to see how the union plans to handle Friday’s all-hands meeting with the agents.  With the two sides committed to discretion, it will be impossible for the union to provide a meaningful update without risking that someone will blab.

Also, the fact that the parties agreed to meet for seven straight days doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely break after Thursday’s session ends.  Cohen surely would prefer to keep the process going, if progress is being made.  And if progress is indeed being made, there’s no reason to pull the plug and give the two sides a chance to cool off.

Though it remains too early to expect to see a puff of white smoke emanating from the chimney (if there even is a chimney) at the offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in D.C., the best sign of real progress will come if/when the two sides announce that they have agreed to extend the current deal for two or three weeks to permit further talks.  If/when that happens, the question of “if” a deal will be done reasonably can be replaced with “when”.