WASHINGTON — The New York Giants’ John Mara joined the NFL group negotiating with the players’ union Tuesday, the first team owner to participate since a federal mediator began overseeing the talks.
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee, and Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen also were among those joining NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell when mediation resumed Tuesday at 1 p.m., 59 hours before the current collective bargaining agreement was due to expire. Most participants hadn’t left as of 6:30 p.m.
“I don’t think you could have a greater sense of urgency,” Jeff Pash, the league’s lead labor negotiator, said on his way into the meeting. “We all know what the calendar is, and we all know what’s at stake for everybody. And that’s why we’re here. We’re going to be here as long as it takes and work as hard as we can work to get something done.”
There was no telling, of course, whether the sides would fare any better Tuesday than they did during more than 40 hours of meetings spread across seven consecutive days of mediation that wrapped up last week. When that round ended Thursday, mediator George Cohen said the league and the NFL Players Association still had “very strong differences” on the “all-important core issues.”
The CBA runs out at midnight as Thursday becomes Friday on the East Coast, and the owners could lock out the players afterward. The union could also decertify — essentially, declare itself out of the business of representing players — and let the players take their chances in court.
Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson — who’s not involved in the negotiations but is getting updates from the union as his team’s NFLPA representative — doesn’t expect there to be a deal by the deadline.
“Everything I’m telling my guys is: Prepare this Friday for the start of a lockout,” Wilson told The Associated Press. “I certainly don’t believe a deal will be reached by Thursday midnight. That’s what I feel in my heart. I have not received any indication (from the union) that we’re close to a deal.”
Whatever happens between now and Friday could eventually wind up causing the country’s most popular sport to lose regular-season games to a work stoppage for the first time since 1987. Or everything could be resolved by management and labor in an industry with revenues topping $9 billion annually.
When Seattle Seahawks guard Chester Pitts left Tuesday’s negotiating session at about 4:30 p.m., he was asked whether he is optimistic about a new CBA agreement being reached.
“What’s the word we’re using right now? ‘Cautiously optimistic,'” Pitts said. “We’re making a point to go into it doing all we can to do things the right way, and hopefully we get a deal done.”
Asked about Mara’s presence, Pitts said: “He’s a businessman, and businessmen like to make money. So sometimes you’ve got to come, make sure you’re hovering around, make sure everything’s being done to get a deal done. And I’m pretty sure he’ll say he had that sense.”
The biggest sticking point all along has been how to divide the league’s revenues, including what cut team owners should get up front to help cover certain costs, such as stadium construction. Under the old deal, owners got $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to double that.
Among the other significant topics in negotiations: a rookie wage scale; the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.
Former player Cornelius Bennett mentioned that last topic as he entered the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building Tuesday. He was among the group of about 15 people accompanying NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.
It wasn’t clear how long mediation would continue. Union president Kevin Mawae, a former player who hasn’t been attending the mediation sessions, is expected to arrive in Washington on Wednesday.
“We want the fans to know that we’re trying. We’re trying. We understand our responsibility, and if we don’t get it done, we know that we’ll have let them down,” the NFL’s Pash said. “And we take that very seriously. So do our owners.”
The 32 teams’ owners were slated to meet Wednesday and Thursday at a hotel in Chantilly, Va., for updates on the status of negotiations.
And then they will need to determine their next step.
In many respects, this boils down to money, of course. And there is plenty of money at risk the longer it takes for the league and NFLPA to work together again.
The league estimates there would be a cut in gross revenues of $350 million if there’s no new CBA by August, before the preseason starts, and a loss of revenues totaling $1 billion if no new contract is in place until September. And if regular-season games are lost in 2011, the NFL figures that revenue losses would amount to about $400 million per week.
If the league locks out the players, everything would stop except the NFL draft on April 28-30, and any interviews or workouts teams hold for college players leading up to the draft. After that, though, teams wouldn’t be able to contact their picks or sign undrafted rookies.
“Both parties are at it, full steam ahead, doing all we can to come to an agreement,” Pitts said Tuesday. “It’s two groups doing business. The tone? None of that matters. It’s business, and that’s the approach, and that’s the expectation. Doing all we can to get a deal done.”