It's probably a mistake to get too encouraged about this week's secret NFL talks in Chicago -- unearthed by the Chicago Tribune's intrepid Brad Biggs, and subsequently confirmed by the league and the NFLPA.
But hey, I'm ready for some straw-grasping. Your Eagletarian is gonna say that this was a real good thing, even without knowing what was discussed, even without any indication of substantial progress, just because it was secret.
Three months ago, I was shivering on the corner of 21st and K in Washington during the federally mediated talks that preceded the March 11 breakdown of negotiations and subsequent lockout. And my impression was that it all was much too choreographed, that there were way too many speeches for the cameras. This was theater, not the groundwork for a labor agreement. Lawyers on both sides seemed extremely confident in their legal positions, and downright impatient to get to court. This notion was underscored by the NFL attorneys who spoke, both formally and informally, during the league meetings in New Orleans in late March.
The talks in Chicago this week excluded attorneys. Wonderful news.
Of course, today the focus shifts back to the courtroom and the lawyers, as the sides convene in St. Louis to argue before the three-judge Eighth Circuit panel that will rule on the legality of the NFL lockout. Two of the three judges on that panel have already given strong hints they will rule for the league, in their opinion staying the injunction the players got against the lockout.
But whatever the ruling is going to be -- and it isn't expected to come for a few weeks -- it probably will push one side or the other closer to trying to make a deal, and that's a good thing for the football-watching public.
There's no mystery about which side has the leverage right now. As long as the lockout stays in place, it's the owners. They might lose the Brady antitrust suit, someday, and like the Reggie White case two decades ago, that decision might have a huge impact on the future of the league. But the Brady suit isn't going to be decided before the 2011 season is scheduled to begin. And for most of the 1,900 or so current NFL players, this is about the 2011 season, not what groundwork might be laid for players in the distant future.
"The loss of one game check outweighs any gain the players might achieve" between the NFL's last offer, in March, and whatever the NFLPA ends up with, one agent told me today. That echoes rumblings I've heard from players.
The longer the lockout goes, the more the scales tilt toward the owners. Players I talk to aren't openly critical of NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith, but they are getting nervous, and they have little stomach for a fight that will carry into the season. Not only do most of them not have the owners' deep pockets or a window of decades to make back losses, the players will bear the weight of a truncated offseason. Nobody is going to scorn Jerry Jones or Jefferey Lurie for being overweight and fumble-fingered if the season starts after some sort of harried two-week training camp in October. No owner is going to shred a hamstring or rip up a knee after lurching back into full, frantic activity following months of makeshift workouts.
The Eagles want to win the next Super Bowl, the one scheduled for February 2012 in Indianapolis. For most players, that is the focus, and every week that slides by without an agreement lengthens the odds on that achievement, with new line coaches in place and new techniques to absorb, plus a new defensive coordinator, plus draftees and presumably free agents who have to be signed.
Another thing: I don't think any team is going to get a lot out of player-organized workouts during the lockout, but I'm thinking no team is going to derive less benefit than the Eagles.
To get 30 or 40 or 50 guys together, and go over offensive and defensive concepts, as a few teams have been doing, you need leaders with clout. On the defensive side of the ball, particularly, the Birds lack this. The one guy who might be able to do it, free agent strong safety Quintin Mikell, probably isn't an Eagle anymore.
Anybody seen Asante Samuel in Philly leading any workouts? Trent Cole, perhaps? Stewart Bradley?
One thing I know -- if this had happened, say, three years ago, Brian Dawkins would have the defense lined up on a field. He'd be teaching Jaiqwuan Jarrett and Curtis Marsh the precepts of Jim Johnson's defense. You wouldn't be hearing about how this veteran has a trainer he's working with in California, and that guy has one in Florida.
But, back to the thought I started out with today -- I hope we just saw the sides take the first steps toward getting this mess put to rest, in a month or so. Anything more than that really affects the season, and I think affects the Eagles more than many teams.