In between rules and modifications, CBA on minds of NFL owners

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The agenda of the NFL Annual Meeting has its share of what, under ordinary circumstances, would be considered important issues.

The proposed change in the overtime format for the postseason? A major overhaul of playing rules, to say the least. Possibly adding protection to defenseless receivers and other modifications designed to enhance player safety? Significant stuff that gets to the heart of what a gathering such as this is supposed to be all about.

Not good enough

The proposed changes to playoff overtime are a good first step, but they don't go far enough as long as the game can still end on one possession, Vic Carucci writes. More ...

However, because these aren't ordinary circumstances, there is one item on the meeting agenda that trumps all of the rest.

Officially, it is the status of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the NFL Players Association, but it would not be a stretch to describe it as something upon which the future of the league hangs in the balance.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owners, and other club executives are spending the lion's share of their time behind closed doors here discussing where the negotiations are and where they are going.

"We're continuing to focus on how do we negotiate properly and get a fair agreement for not only the owners and clubs, but the players and the fans in general," Goodell said, without revealing any specifics.

Some owners preferred not to publicly address any aspect of the CBA talks, while others did, but mostly in general terms.

"I think the owners understand, as I'm sure the players do and the NFLPA does, at some point we need to reach an agreement because it's the right thing for our fans, the right thing for our business, all of our media partners, all stakeholders involved," said Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. "And it's a process we have to go through and it's a process we are going through. It's a little bit like childbirth. Maybe you don't love the process, but you love the result."

The question is, will the two sides get to that point somewhere between March of 2011, when the current CBA expires, and the start of the 2011 season? If they don't, there's a chance that games won't be played because of a lockout.

So far, progress has been slow, although there clearly is plenty of time for that to change.

Goodell reported that there haven't been any talks for several weeks, mostly for logistical reasons -- NFLPA officials were in Hawaii last week for that organization's annual meetings while NFL brass is meeting here this week. He said he expects a conversation in the next week or so to schedule a resumption of negotiations.

In the meantime, owners and other club officials are being briefed on what has been discussed by both sides and strategies that are planned for future negotiations.

By all indications from both sides, finding a resolution is likely to be extremely difficult.

"It's the old adage: You prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said. "I think we're prepared, I think the league's prepared for whatever might happen."

During his opening remarks to all participants of the NFL Annual Meeting, Goodell said the NFL has a "great team" of negotiators in place that is "very talented, is working very hard, and they want to find a solution that satisfies the interest in everyone."

"I think they can do that," McNair said. "But it takes time and you have to be patient."

Unity is another theme that was hammered home among the owners. Blank said it was important for the owners to "continue to express that they're linked together in terms of their commitment to getting a new deal done and getting it done on terms that are going to be sustainable for the league for a very long time."

Goodell challenged the perception, raised by a reporter, that the NFL is seeking the NFLPA to return a portion of revenues it received when agreement on the current CBA was reached in 2006 and, therefore, the outcome of the negotiations would produce a winner (the NFL) and a loser (the NFLPA).

"I think it's a win-win situation," Goodell said. "I think if we can create the right economic system, we can grow the game. If we can encourage the investment and the innovation (among teams), all of the opportunities continue to expand. And by doing that, we grow the pie and there's more to share and everyone benefits from that."

"We'll end up reaching a good point," Blank said. "But we have to go through the steps we're going through now."

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