On Friday, as the NFL and the players were by all accounts closing in on an agreement in principle for a new labor deal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit dropped a ruling that essentially slammed the brakes on the process. Over the weekend, it wasn’t clear whether one side or the other would attempt to argue that the mixed-outcome decision (in our assessment) justified a shift in the leverage.
A summary of the ruling prepared by NFLPA* lawyers seemed to suggest that there was, at a minimum, an effort to paint the decision as a victory for the players. But through two days this week of lawyers-only negotiations in New York, no one has suggested that the players — or the owners — are trying to dramatically alter the deal based on the belief that either side “won” the case before the Eighth Circuit.
So now, after a nine-hour detail-ironing-out session between the lawyers on Tuesday, the big boys return to the bargaining table, with a whopping six owners showing up.
As Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reported earlier in the week, Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan is available via e-mail and by phone if necessary. And if they can’t get it done this week (some think a deal in principle will be announced on July 17), they’ll be in Judge Boylan’s Minneapolis chambers on Tuesday, July 19.
Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that the parties have been ordered to appear with “full settlement authority,” a strong-sounding mandate that in many cases the presiding judicial officer declines to literally enforce. In this situation, it technically means that the players’ representatives must have the authority of the 10 named plaintiffs to get something done — and that the owners who show up must have the ability without a full vote of the owners to enter into a binding deal. (Alternatively, all owners must be present, in order to vote then and there on whether a specific proposal will be adopted.)
More important than the notion of “full settlement authority” could be the setting. By working in Judge Boylan’s chambers in lieu of a local law firm, Boylan could lock the door, swallow the key, and tell the parties that, based on his specific biology, the stem-to-stern journey takes about 48 hours. With the owners due to meet in Atlanta on July 21, Boylan likely will require them to stay late on Tuesday and arrive early on Wednesday (and stay late on Wednesday if needed) in an effort to finally get this done.
We continue to put out feelers on whether the deal is being delayed only by the rookie wage scale, or whether the issues reach farther than that. To date, no one has said that there’s more than the rookie wage scale, with the exception of the “right of first refusal” red herring.
So whether it ends now, in a week from now, or somewhere in between, it looks like the end is near. But we’ll keep trying to find out whether there’s any legitimate reason to doubt that.