So the two sides have until Friday to get at least the framework of a deal done. It's possible that by Friday the players will choose to decertify the union and take their chances in court, which likely would be followed by the league locking players out of their facilities. In court, with Doty the first line of litigious defense, the players would have the edge, to be sure. But the NFL would appeal every verdict. Weeks would pass. Months would pass. There's a very good chance that the season would be compromised and tens of millions of dollars (maybe hundreds of millions) would be lost forever.
Roger Goodell knows he has some owners who don't want to share any more financial information, and he knows he has some owners who'd be willing to take a shot at the players collapsing before the season became a total lost cause.
I remember, as I wrote the other day, Goodell saying to me that the March deadline was important, even though it came six months before the league would miss a single game. Season-ticket payments, many of them, wouldn't get made in March if the games were in doubt. Ad agencies would funnel money to other sports for the fall campaign. That's what Goodell has been telling his owners, anyway; believe it if you wish.
But it makes sense to me that he'll make his push this week. And it makes sense too that he'll give more financial information to the players. Wouldn't it make sense that if the players sue the owners that the owners would have to give up more financial data than they'd want anyway?
I was a little surprised that the players agreed to extend the deadline twice. That says to me they think they can move toward a deal, if not get one outright. I didn't think there would be that first extension, because the players know they have the edge in litigation now. When the two sides agreed to extend for a week on Friday, I felt strongly that the players were saying, OK, now there's going to be real movement. I think that will happen this week. Will it be enough? We'll see.
It was interesting talking to Garber and two MLS stars Sunday night, Donovan of the Los Angeles franchise and Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller. They're two of the most respected players in the league, and they, along with Garber, thought Cohen was invaluable in the process. "In most labor fights,'' said Garber, "both sides tend not to accept what the other side says at face value. I found George to be rational, calm and focused, with no vested interest except in trying to find a resolution. He ensured that all voices were heard, and I think led us to an agreement that could help us grow the sport.''
"Sometimes,'' said Keller, "it takes a third party to hear an argument for the first time and say, 'Look gentlemen, this is what I think is fair.' In our case, neither of us was flinching first. He gave both parties the sense that it was the other side giving in, and he was suggesting what was fairest to all. I can tell you that we all thought he was phenomenal.''
In particular, one of the final sticking points for Cohen was to bridge the gap on minimum salaries -- both for rostered players and for the MLS' version of practice-squad players, the developmental players. Minimum salary for active players rose from $34,000 to $40,000; developmental salaries went from $20,100 to $31,250. Cohen looked at ownership and said, in effect, You can't expect players to join a professional team for $20,000 a year. "That was a big deal,'' said Donovan, "because so many guys in the league either make near the minimum or have made the minimum.''
Makes the football discussions seem sort of ridiculous, doesn't it?
There's pressure on both sides this week to accept Cohen's suggestions. There's pressure on both sides to move more than they want. I can imagine what Goodell has said to more than one owner, and it's something like this: You're going to like a litigated settlement a lot less than the settlement we can reach this week with the players. And you're going to hate the timing of a litigated settlement. We've got to get this done now, as bad as you think any deal we strike is going to be.''
And now for just a little bit of football. Mind if I sneak some of that in?
Last year, the Saints Super Bowl video had more of the inside, funny sideline stuff than this year's Packer DVD. You remember Sean Payton getting mad when he couldn't get the kind of gum he wanted. Well, I'll gladly trade Juicy Fruit for juicy stuff. There's a good bit of that in the NFL Films-produced "NFL Super Bowl XLV Champions: Green Bay Packers,'' to be released Tuesday by Warner Home Video.
My five favorite takeaways from the DVD:
1. Seeing how great Aaron Rodgers played in the postseason, especially in his 31-of-36 masterpiece against Atlanta in the playoffs, and some of his gems against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. NFL Films did such an exquisite job capturing Rodgers throwing on the run in the second half against Atlanta. In super slo-mo, it's amazing to see how coolly Rodgers moved, and how on-target his on-the-run throws were. And the spirals. Perfect.
In the Super Bowl, on third-and-10 with six minutes to go and the Pack nursing a 28-25 lead, Rodgers ducked into the huddle and said, "We're gonna be champions tonight.'' He got the playcall on this third-down play from McCarthy, and zipped it about 30 yards in the air -- amazingly, barely touched by an outstretched fingertip of cornerback Ike Taylor. It landed right in Greg Jennings chest, and Green Bay drove to an insurance field goal. Beautiful throw. Quite literally, had it been one inch closer to Taylor, the ball would have been knocked away, and the Packers would have punted from their 25 with plenty of time for the Steelers to drive.
And let's say Pittsburgh would have taken over at their 35 with 5:45 left ... needing only a field goal to tie and send it to overtime. Instead of having to go 87 yards in two minutes for the win, Pittsburgh would have had to go 35 yards in five-plus minutes to force OT. Big difference there. Rodgers, over and over again, showed what a great difference-maker he was in the four postseason games.
2. Greg Jennings the leader, the playcaller, and the player. Early in the Super Bowl, Jennings and Jordy Nelson sat together on the bench, and Nelson told him in an exercised way how upset he was that Troy Polamalu blindsided him on a pass play with no interference called. (The replay showed he wasn't blindsided exactly, but he was hit beyond the five-yard bump zone for sure.) On the next series, Jennings found Polamalu on the field and yelled, "Don't you be hitting my boy cheap on that wheel route! He told me about it!''
That wasn't the best of it for Jennings. In the second half, with the Packers nursing a 21-17 lead, Jennings went to coach and play-caller Mike McCarthy and begged him to call the corner route in the end zone, because the Steelers weren't being consistent with their coverages in the corner. McCarthy, with 12 minutes left in the game and the ball at the Steelers 8, called it. And just like Jennings said, he was wide open, and it was an easy touchdown for Rodgers. When Jennings got back to the sideline, he found receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, who said to him: "God bless you, my friend! That's what a champion does -- he makes a play we gotta have.''
3. B.J. Raji's voice. The wonder of a child. On the bench in Texas, just before the Super Bowl started, he turned to defensive end Jarius Wynn and said: "Look around real quick. Think back to when you were a little kid, man. This is what dreams are made of.''
4. Clay Matthews is really good. Halfway through the video, I said to myself, "I may have thought too hard on defensive player of the year. Maybe I should have gone Matthews, not Julius Peppers.'' But postseason play doesn't count in the awards, so it's a bit unfair to be wowed by what a rusher does in the playoffs. Matthews is the genuine item, and will be for years.
5. The Steelers were just a little off in the Super Bowl. Troy Polamalu was ineffective, as he was throughout the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger made a few terrific throws, but he might regret the Jarrett Bush interception in the second quarter for a long time. On the play, you can see Heath Miller free, with his hand in the air as if to say, "I'm open!'' But Roethlisberger forced it to Mike Wallace inside, and Bush read it right, and instead of Miller maybe rambling downfield for a score or a big gain, the ball was picked, and soon Rodgers threw another touchdown pass, and Green Bay was off and running, 21-3.