DALLAS -- On the eve of needed contract negotiations between the NFL and its players union regarding a new collective bargaining agreement, league commissioner Roger Goodell made it abundantly clear that if the sides don't reach an accord exactly a month from today, it could be a "bad outcome."
He didn't say owners would lock out players or that we'd have a potentially lengthy standoff that could cost games, jobs and hundreds of millions throughout the economy directly tied to the NFL. He didn't have to though. We got the hint and we know that could happen.
Fans couldn't care less right now. The grandest game of the season -- the Super Bowl -- is set to be played Sunday between two of the NFL's keystone franchises: Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. Those are small-market teams that exemplify why the NFL is such a great sport -- because every team has a chance.
The specter of this game won't be overshadowed by this labor situation because the only ones occupied by this troubling reality are the ones involved in trying to salvage a potentially bad situation that will soon become a focal point once fans realize the popular sport is dangerously close to being shelved.
For now, Goodell and team owners, as well as NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and his union, have a cloak to hide behind. Come Monday morning, when one team is planning a victory parade and the confetti has been cleaned from Cowboys Stadium, reality arrives.
Goodell and Smith know this, which is why they spent the last two days publicly pleading their cases before lining up in a conference room Saturday to figure out each side's definition of "fair." The saber rattling is intriguing, but each man knows how much could be lost if they don't reach a settlement.
While Goodell and Smith have shown the backbone to stand up for their respective causes, they've also been insistent that there is no time to waste.
"This is the window of opportunity," Goodell said.
If that window closes, Goodell said owners -- and the union -- have a lot of scenarios that don't seem favorable to anyone. Money would be lost and the financial pie that they're battling over would shrink, making negotiations even tougher and the possibility of lost games more probable. The bitterness would turn to ugly.
For the past few weeks, owners have been calling for around-the-clock negotiations instead of the public relations and legal maneuvering it feels the union is taking to prove a point. It is clear that owners, as much as they've been viewed by the NFLPA as prepping for a lockout, want to get a deal done.
Sure, they have the backstop of television money continuing to flow into their coffers, but they'd also lose hundreds of millions in other stalled revenue streams. They also would have to make good to the networks down the road.
Players will also lose if a deal isn't done. Free agents won't be able to change teams and cash in. Roster and workout bonuses won't be received. I've also never covered any labor situation where athletes, the ones fans pay to see play, ever win the PR war. No matter how just their argument, fans can't relate to players because their lifestyles tend to be vastly different.
Player earnings are frequently made public and some of them don't help their cause by flaunting multiple cars and ridiculous jewelry in front of fans that have to trim their entertainment budget to meet escalating gas prices. Owners make a lot more money than players because they can afford to pay them, but when's the last time you saw a fan burning a Jerry Jones jersey?
Goodell said he doesn't care about his legacy as a commissioner or if labor uncertainty would help shape how he's viewed. His concern is getting a deal done that would make the game better for the next 10 years.
Owners want the monetary pendulum to swing back toward their side because the deal agreed upon in 2006, and the one that they opted out of in 2008, is too favorable toward players, Goodell said. Players don't think so, and they have claimed for months that they're good with the way things have been structured.
Players want to play. They've said as much in an ad campaign on television and on the web. Smith and NFLPA president Kevin Mawae stressed the message again in a news conference here Thursday. Both sides know they have to give to get.
Smith said he has a good relationship with Goodell and vice versa. They are both very smart and charismatic men. Sometimes -- a lot of times in labor talks -- it takes the guys at the top to sidestep the lawyers to make something happen. Both seem on board to make something happen.
It's just a matter of when. The window is open.