The lockout is over and the two sides, the owners and players, have retreated into their respective corners. The natural question -- who won? Whenever there is a significant battle, instinct says one side has to win. Treaties are drawn and new rules established. And to everyone involved in football, the past five months have felt like a major fight between players and owners.
But neither the owners nor the players emerge as the victor. The unanimous winners are football fans all over the globe. Football is back -- and back for a long time with a 10-year deal, thus allowing the game to grow worldwide and for many more to get familiar with this great game.
In the last CBA agreement, which was clearly rushed to completion, both sides had the right to opt out if either felt the deal was unbalanced. The players were happy, but the owners wanted more and opted out. The groundwork for the labor war was set, centering on how to split an ungodly amount of money.
Both sides used public relations to pitch their positions, believing public relations would swing the leverage in the negotiations. This did not work for either side. We learned the fans did not care who was right or who was wrong or who had the better argument. They only cared about the game on the field -- not the revenue split, not the drug policy, not the rookie deals or anything else.
In spite of the harsh talking and posturing that occurred for months, both sides eventually did as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft advised in February -- work on finding a resolution to achieving a fair deal. Kraft understands the football business, and he knew deep down a deal could be reached.
Back in early June, Kraft forged a relationship with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. This relationship opened dialogue and communication between the two sides that started the momentum towards the resolution. Kraft understood that if both sides kept their emotions out of the negotiations and focused on the issues, a deal could be reached.
Crafting a partnership takes time, it takes trust and it takes someone to understand the problems of today, tomorrow and the next 10 years. Someone had to take the lead, someone had to start the process and someone had to trust their business instincts. Kraft trusted his instincts, much like he did when he hired Bill Belichick in 2000, when most told him he was not the right fit. Those instincts led to three Super Bowl wins and the Patriots now have the best coach in the league patrolling the sidelines. Kraft deserves a ton of credit for being the visionary in seeing greatness in Belichick, just as today he deserves credit for being that bridge to a deal.
In the face of the death of his beloved wife, Myra, Kraft can be proud that he was able to take the lead and be the driving force in moving the talks towards a settlement. Kraft had time for his wife during those difficult days, but also made time to be involved with his business. The outpouring of love from both sides Monday outside the NFLPA offices showed how much impact Kraft had.
Many others on both sides played a huge role in getting this deal done. Not one player or one owner was the driving force. A collective group of people tossed aside philosophical differences to craft a new CBA for the good of this great game. All that was needed was a little push from Kraft.
Many fans think their voices were not heard in the past 136 days, but they were. Each side knew they had to get back on the field to keep their fan base happy and to keep their customers loyal.
The ultimate winner in this whole process was all of us. Let football begin again.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.