CHANTILLY, Va. - Talking is good, we have been continually told. "Talking," NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae said yesterday after the owners and players spent another 4 hours in a room together with federal mediator George Cohen, "is better than not talking."
Yesterday's session between the two sides was the ninth in the last 2 weeks, totaling 51 hours. With the current collective bargaining agreement scheduled to expire tonight at midnight, they will meet again this morning at 9 o'clock.
While there has been no indication of any name-calling or fist-pounding or let's-take-it-outside ill will in these sessions, there also has been no indication that all of this talking has gotten them any closer to a new labor deal.
There is no chance - none - that there will be a new deal in place by midnight. The best hope right now, really the only hope, is that the players and owners agree to keep on talking for another week or 2 and extend the current CBA while they do. But even that might be wishful thinking.
After yesterday's bargaining session at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices in downtown D.C., NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's Management Council Executive Committee hopped in SUVs and drove 25 miles to a hotel near Dulles Airport to brief all of the clubs on the status of the talks. After the 3-hour briefing ended, most of the owners ran faster 40-yard dashes to their waiting limos than most of the offensive-line prospects at the scouting combine. Had to hurry home to decide on the first round of layoffs in the event of a lockout.
The only owner willing to slow down and talk to reporters was the Colts' Jim Irsay, and he didn't sound like a man who was expecting Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith to join hands and sing "Kumbaya" together any time soon.
"From my personal perspective, there's always [a chance for] progress when you're talking, when you're moving forward," Irsay said. "I've been watching these things for decades and they evolve and you can't really predict the speed and that sort of thing, or predict even what happens in the midnight hour.
"Going through these things in the seventies and eighties, I never have expectations except A, B, C, D, E, and always plan for F because it changes. It's a chess board that moves around and things change, things happen at unusual hours. I don't want to put any certainty on what the evening will bring tomorrow."
Irsay is a big music buff who loves to tweet some of his favorite lyrics. He was asked yesterday what lyrics he would tweet to describe the status of the negotiations.
"Probably Bob Dylan's 'Meet Me In the Morning,' " he said. "They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn. But I told that to Eric Dickerson once and he told me, 'No, the darkest hour is right before everything goes black.' "
We will find out very shortly if the NFL is going to go black. If there is no new deal by midnight, the owners could impose a lockout. The union may beat them to the punch by decertifying today, which would open the door for the players to file an antitrust suit against the league.
Five years ago, the owners and players agreed to a new deal just before a deadline that would have sent the league into an uncapped year.
"I remember last time, everyone broke away and Paul [Tagliabue] texted [late NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw [who had just arrived in Hawaii for the NFLPA's annual convention], and they hooked back up beyond the 11th hour," Irsay said. "I think Gene already had started ordering drinks to either celebrate or drown his sorrows."
That was different, though. They still had another full year to play with in 2006 if they hadn't reached an agreement, albeit one without a salary cap. And Upshaw and Tagliabue had a level of trust that this fight's two key figures - Goodell and current NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith - don't have. Besides, the owners quickly decided they signed a bad deal and voted to opt out of it early in 2008.
"In business, you have to have contingencies to go forward," Irsay said. "More will be revealed, but we'll go to work tomorrow and see what happens."
Judge David Doty stole a considerable amount of the owners' financial courage earlier this week when he ruled that the $4 billion in TV money they were going to keep as lockout insurance violated the current CBA. That might make them a little more willing to extend the talks today. Or not.
"Our commitment is to get a fair agreement as soon as possible without any disruption to the season," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "We're fully focused on that goal."
So, the talking continues for at least a few more hours. Which is better than not talking.