Those of you waiting on positive NFL lockout news this week can make other plans. After another round of intensive negotiations, players and owners took a break for the weekend. While reports generally view the talks as progressing, the most telling item about when a deal might be reached is a required meeting with mediator Arthur Boylan scheduled for Tuesday, July 19. That's just three days before the St. Louis Rams are scheduled to start camp, which is bumped forward a week because of their August 7 appearance in the Hall of Fame Game. If you're keeping score at home, the odds of that game being played just dropped.
Two ways to look at July 19. One, it's a sort of deadline imposed by Boylan, who did tell both sides to keep working this week. Perhaps they will present him with the deal on that date, he'll get an official, court-recognized handshake. Or, it could be that it's just a date, a check-in point to pick up his on-site role in the talks should they still need some, er, guidance.
Even optimists will have to concede that the "handshake" scenario would still require some time for business to get done, i.e. enough finalization on the deal for the league to open for business. Remember, teams need a solid foundational knowledge of the new CBA to operate their offseason plans, like signing rookie draft picks and free agents. That makes it pretty tough to imagine that anything happens in time for the Rams to start camp on July 22.
And that brings us back to the question of just when exactly the Rams would have to start training camp in order to play the HOF Game. Game or not, it would also see the team on the practice field while GM Billy Devaney chased free agents. Oh, and those rookie draft picks wouldn't be able to join the team until they get a deal, so they might not be there at the start of camp either.
The Bears' Devin Hester, the Rams opponent in the HOF Game, says he wants a good ten days of practice to play in the HOF Game. I don't know that they need a full week of practice, but some time to get reacquainted with having the pads on and going through live hitting would be necessary. It would be the height of stupidity for either team to lose a player because they rushed the Hall of Fame Game...a last lockout tragedy sort of like soldiers killed in skirmishes in the weeks after the Civil War ended because they hadn't heard the news...or something like that.
Putting all 32 teams on track to start camp at the same time, and eighty-sixing the HOF Game, would be the fairest way to go about business now, giving all teams an equal amount of time to navigate the ins and outs of the new CBA, etc.
Another, minor note to consider. Given that camp is scheduled to start in less than two weeks, it probably stands to reason that the Rams will be having camp at the Russell Training Center rather than on the road in Rolla, MO, or Carbondale, IL, the two sites that were under consideration.
Personally, I'm betting against the Hall of Fame Game happening.