CHICAGO (AP) The next time NFL owners meet about the labor situation, some of them believe a new deal with the players might be reached.
A meeting has been scheduled for December in Dallas, and several owners expressed their optimism on Tuesday that labor peace, not discord, is ahead.
At the conclusion of the league’s fall meetings, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said “we’re moving ahead. I’d like to see this get done before the season ends.” Asked if that was a realistic objective, he added “to me it is.”
Chimed in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, like Kraft one of the league’s power brokers, “I wouldn’t want to speculate on the degree of realism one way or the other as far as a timetable of getting it done. We as owners will continue to strive to have an agreement as soon as possible. I get the message that the union feels the same way.”
Indeed, Kevin Mawae, president of the NFL Players Association, said just that in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
“We should recognize the business we are both in and for our fans and workers, let’s wrap this up by the holidays,” Mawae said. “Since 2006, the players contributed almost $3 billion to stadium construction and improvements, so our investment is at risk, too. The players are the ones losing their health care, and yet it was the owners who opted out of this deal and are threatening a lockout.”
There were no threats at these meetings. Of course, there’s also no imminent deadline to reach a new contract; in 2008, the owners opted out of the deal reached in 2006, saying it’s too costly to them, and the CBA expires in March.
“It’s a big responsibility to find a way and a solution,” Indianapolis Colts owner Jimmy Irsay said. “It’s never easy, and I’m optimistic that we will get it done.”
The owners were expressing such confidence even as they were discussing strategies for negotiations and the possibility of a work stoppage.
“Our issue is to get there sooner rather than later, bargaining in good faith and get an agreement with the players that is fair,” added Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Expanding the regular season to 18 games was not discussed, except when Irsay joked about it. Colts President Bill Polian said recently that it was a “fait accompli,” and Polian was admonished by Goodell.
“There’s nothing else to report,” Irsay said with a laugh. “My president said some things and then the commissioner said some things to him and I said some things.”
Goodell reiterated Tuesday that the league wants all of its partners involved in such a decision.
“We’re trying to do it the right way, in a comprehensive fashion and understanding all perspectives of this,” Goodell said. “We recognize the player health safety issues and what we do to prepare our players in the offseason. I think we’ve been both thoughtful and intelligent. We made a proposal to the players on this.
“Every day you go by without implementing it, that’s probably another day it is into the future. We’re not as focused on when as much as doing it properly.”
Goodell and the NFL Alumni announced a partnership to benefit retired players that will include the Gay Culverhouse Players’ Outreach Program.
Efforts will include hiring case workers, establishment of a toll-free hot line and personal contact with retired players and their families through events sponsored by NFL Alumni and the Culverhouse program.
“There are very comprehensive benefits and services available,” Goodell said. “But too often former players and their families don’t know what they are or how to gain access to the programs.”
Hall of Famer Mike Ditka spoke to the owners about treatment of retired players. Ditka is an active critic of how the league has handled taking care of retired players.
“Ain’t no one going broke in football,” Ditka said. “Greed is a great sin.”
Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, said he expects the league to review the rule that cost Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson a potential winning touchdown in a season-opening loss to Chicago. After Johnson went to the turf with possession, he placed the ball on the ground as he ran to celebrate. It’s been one of the season’s most discussed – and dissed – calls.
“The going-to-the-ground rule definitely will be discussed,” McKay said. “It’s been discussed the last couple of years. It’s a difficult rule. It was made for on-field officials, not as much for people watching on TV.”
“There’s a definite conflict,” he added. “We have to go back and look if we extended it too far.”
The competition committee will meet after the Super Bowl and then suggest any rules changes to team owners at the league’s spring meetings in March.