Eisenberg: Drop-Dead Deadline Only True Motivator


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For weeks beforehand, I heard many political pundits say agreements in such situations tend to come in the final hour, at that drop-dead moment, when they have to agree or else.

Those pundits were correct in the end, and that led me to wonder: When is that drop-dead moment in the NFL's labor crisis? Is there a date on which the two sides will feel compelled to get a deal done or else?

The early-March expiration of the collective bargaining agreement was sort of a deadline. It passed without an agreement being reached, but there were major concessions from both sides and real progress being made in the hours before the mediated negotiations broke off. The drop-dead deadline was working.

In the end, though, that deadline was more arbitrary than real. The fate of the 2011 NFL season wasn't at stake in March. The first games weren't scheduled to be played for another six months. That had a lot to do with why the mediated talks didn't succeed, if you ask me.

The drop-dead deadline in the NFL situation – its version of a looming government shutdown – is the start of the season in September. That's when the players would start missing their salaries and the owners would start missing their TV income.

That's when significant damage to the game would occur, a scenario neither side wants in what remains, regardless of what anyone says, an unabashed era of prosperity for both sides.

So if the start of the season is what neither side wants to miss, when do they need to reach an agreement to ensure it rolls out on time?

Not in September itself, on the eve of the scheduled opener. That's too late. Teams can't just crank into gear and start playing.

For starters, there will be dozens of free agents on the market when a new CBA finally is in place. Those guys will need time to figure out where they're playing. A couple of weeks of open free agency is a must. And once that settles out, you have to give teams at least a few weeks of training camp and maybe one exhibition to stretch their legs and get organized.

Understand, none of this scenario is ideal – it's completely frenzied and borderline unrealistic – but it's an absolute drop-dead timetable for getting the season started on time after months of a labor impasse.

Sounds like late July or early August to me.

For now, we can root for the resumption of mediated talks, which a Minnesota judge has demanded. But with no deadline looming, it's hard to see such talks resulting in an agreement.

There's also a chance the complex legal wrangling now underway could get football going again sooner rather than later, but given the legal system's slow machinations, I'm not holding my breath.

I'm thinking a deadline is the force that will make a difference, and the hot days of summer, when training camp is scheduled to begin, is when the specter of missing the start of the season becomes real.

Hopefully, as in Washington last week, that looming sports disaster will impel the players and owners to put aside their differences and get a deal done.

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