It has come down to this: NFL owners and players both say they want to talk, but they can't agree where.
The players want negotiations overseen by the federal court in Minnesota where all recent league-player disputes have been heard. And they want to talk about settling the players' anti-trust suit against the owners.
The owners, meanwhile, want to return to Washington to meet with federal mediator George Cohen, who kept the two sides together for several weeks before everything fell apart.They want collective bargaining talks, not a legal settlement.
The owners and players sent letters to each other today laying out their positions after Judge Susan Richard Nelson urged them to get together and end their dispute through negotiations.
While the goal of talks in either place would presumably be to end hostilities, the different venues carry different implications. Settling the anti-trust case would leave the eventual deal under court supervision, similar to what happened in the 1993 free agency case led by Reggie White. Since then, disputes between the two sides have gone back to court, where the players have generally fared pretty well. You can guess why they want to talk settlement again.
The owners, meanwhile, for the same reasons, would rather have a typical collective bargaining agreement that doesn't have court oversight tied into it.
The other issue for players is that returning to collective bargaining talks in Washington might back up the owners' claim that their union still exists and that the decertification in March was a "sham." If the owners can prove in court that the players are still acting as a union, then the players would lose the rights to sue on anti-trust grounds and seek an injunction lifting the lockout. (If the union still exists, the players get collective bargaining rights, but not anti-trust protection; by decertifying they chose anti-trust protections over collective bargaining protection).
The players insist their union has dissolved. The owners say they won't use any new talks in Washington against the players in court.
The bottom line? The two sides still can't agree to talk or even where to talk. The feeling here is that neither will move until Nelson rules, swinging leverage one way or another. If she really wants negotiations to settle this, Nelson may have to order the sides back to the table, rather than just encouraging it, as she did Wednesday.