It turns out that there is something rather official about the semi-secret talks being held by NFL owner and player representatives in Chicago this week. Once news broke that Judge Arthur Boylan was on hand for the talks it was clear that there was more to them than just prepping for court. Now comes news that the mediation session scheduled for next Tuesday is Minneapolis was cancelled by the court, replaced with the current talks. It's a significant development, especially since the talks are being classified as settlement talks.
Besides owners' stingy offer made at H-hour before the lockout, one major point of contention by the players was that owners were infrequently present throughout that mediation session until the bitter end. That goes along with a rising level of suggestion from both sides that players and owners be allowed to sit down together and negotiate without the presence of their pricey hired legal guns.
It's worth pointing out here, that DeMaurice Smith is the players' lawyer, but he is also the executive director of the former players association. In other words, he has a place at the table.
And why is the fact that these have officially been classified as settlement talks important? The last Collective Bargaining Agreement resulted from settlement talks. Those talks occurred against the backdrop of a nasty court battle. As Albert Breer from the NFL Network points out, settlement talks imply that there is a certain validity to the antitrust case being made by players. He also notes that if they reach a settlement as a foundation for a new CBA, it would mean continued court supervision.
Continued court supervision would be a big win for the players, allowing them to keep the antitrust card in their hand should they seek protection against NFL owners down the road. It also means that the NFL doesn't think the 8th Circuit Court will be such a redoubt against antitrust case...or maybe they're just scared with the clock ticking away on the season and dwindling fan interest in a world with plenty of other distractions.
Of course, given where this whole thing stands, granting the concession of continued court supervision would seem to imply that players are making a big concession themselves. For a concession like that it would have to be something big too...like maybe some significant revenue giveback? It would have to be something along those lines.
Details seem to emerge by the hour, even though the talks are confidential. How soon can this thing get resolved? Hey, at least we're asking that question now rather than whether or not this thing can get resolved.