Lockout latest

Chantilly, VA -- Here's the take away from a day of meetings (by owners) and waiting (by reporters and those fans who care): there was no indication of progress on the NFL's labor front and all signs point to a lockout at the end of the day Thursday.

I'll have a full report in Thursday's Inquirer, but here's the quick take:

-- Owners and players met with a federal mediator Wednesday morning and then the owners huddled in the afternoon at a Marriott here in Virginia. They didn't vote on a lockout, but the 10-owner bargaining committee has the authority to implement one if there is no deal by midnight Thursday (the end of Thursday and start of Friday).

-- Both the NFL and NFLPA are set to meet with a federal mediator again Thursday morning. There are three possible outcomes: 1) they fail to reach a deal and the owners begin a lockout (best odds). 2) they temporarily extend the CBA (a chance, for cosmetic reasons) 3)they reach a deal (good luck with that).

-- Here's why the lockout is most likely: despite all rhetoric and coverage, the two sides really have little to lose with a March lockout. Some fans might be angry that free agency is shelved, but anyone that devoted to following player movement is probably a pretty committed fan, one unlikely to walk away even if there is an extended labor war. So with little to lose (owner and players alike won't lose real money until late summer or September) neither side is going to offer much in the way of concessions now. Each will wait and hope the other side breaks first, or that they can score a big legal victory that can tip the balance of negotiations. So you have no motivation to compromise, and a stand off. One way for the owners to gain leverage is to lockout the players, making them worry about their finances come September.

-- All that said, you might see a CBA extension. Neither side wants to be seen as the recalcitrant party here. For one thing, it looks bad to the public. More importantly, it makes it hard to argue to a judge that you really want to play the games -- and that it's the other side holding up a deal -- if there is an extension on the table and you won't sign it. So there's a chance the two sides agree to extend the CBA for a bit and continue talks, with neither wanting to look like the bad guy. Even if they do this, a lockout is still probably coming once the extension ends.

-- As for a deal, most of the NFL's 10-man labor committee left town tonight. They say not to read anything into it, but it's hard to take that seriously. If there was an actual deal on the horizon, I think guys like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft would want to be here for it.

-- The players will probably decertify Thursday, which would let them bring an anti-trust suit against the NFL. They might not sue immediately, but the threat alone is a big enough deal that it might force the league's hand a bit. When the players won free agency in the last major NFL labor dispute in the early '90s, it was through decertification and a successful anti-trust suit. That makes this tactic worth watching. The big difference is that then the players were fighting for a basic right: the ability to shop their services on the open market. Now the players are fighting to just keep what they already have.

-- Talks resume Thursday with the mediator.

-- If you're interested in how all this got started, and the various issues behind the dispute, I had a primer here and in the Inquirer in February. Here's a link.