The NFL and its locked-out players are scheduled to sit down Thursday for a second round of mediated talks, this time in Minneapolis under the supervision of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan of the Minnesota federal court.
This is the first set of talks since the negotiations overseen by federal mediator George H. Cohen collapsed March 11. The players dissolved their union that day and filed an antitrust lawsuit against team owners. The owners locked out the players March 12.
The players have asked U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to end the lockout. Her decision is pending. She ordered the league and players Monday to participate in these talks with Boylan.
Here is a quick review of where things stand:
What are the major issues dividing the two sides?
The league and players can’t agree on how to divide the sport’s approximately $9.3 billion in annual revenue. The players are seeking more financial data from the teams, saying they could not agree to any concessions without more detailed information than the owners have been willing to provide.
There are other issues, including how much to pay rookies and whether NFL players will be blood-tested for use of human growth hormone.
Where do things stand in the legal process?
Nelson said after an April 6 hearing that it would take her a couple of weeks to rule on the players’ request for a preliminary injunction that would end the lockout. In her mediation order she wrote that she still intends to rule, and that the talks would not slow down the litigation.
Nelson’s ruling can be appealed. If Nelson lifts the lockout, the NFL would almost certainly seek a delay of her order — first from her, and if she were to refuse, from the appeals court, while a full appeal is prepared. If it failed, the lockout would be lifted at least temporarily and the sport would be back in business.
Separately, the National Labor Relations Board is considering the owners’ accusation that the decertification of the players’ union is a sham undertaken to allow the players to pursue antitrust litigation in court.
Is there any reason to think this round of talks will succeed when the first ones didn’t?
Some outside the negotiations believe the two sides were relatively close to a deal when the talks with Cohen broke off. But people on the players’ side have said an agreement never was within reach.
The talks are resuming only because Nelson ordered them to start up again, not because the league and players agreed to sit down.
Nelson cannot force them into a deal, and some experts believe it’s unlikely there would be one before Nelson rules on the injunction and the losing side appeals.
Could we see replacement players on the field?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league has given no consideration to using replacement players if the lockout lasts into the season.
What about the draft? And free agents?
The NFL draft will be held as scheduled April 28-30. As long as the lockout remains in effect, teams cannot sign players to contracts or trade players.
During the draft, teams can trade draft picks but not players.
What are the chances of the season beginning on time in September?
It’s impossible to tell at this point. If the players win an injunction, it’s possible that the sport could operate — probably under last season’s rules, which included no salary cap — while the antitrust litigation continues to wend its way through court.
If the lockout remains in effect, the pressure on the two sides to reach a settlement undoubtedly would increase greatly as the season nears.