NFL la­bor: What's ahead? Per­haps si­lence

The Pak Banker - - I Nternational -

NEW YORK: As one of the strangest NFL sea­sons - on and off the field - winds down, foot­ball fans can be­gin con­tem­plat­ing play­off matchups, fol­lowed by the Su­per Bowl, then the draft.

And then, per­haps, noth­ing. Dark sta­di­ums. Empty Sun­day af­ter­noons and Mon­day nights. No fan­tasy teams.

The col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment be­tween the league and the play­ers ex­pires March 4. Team own­ers have gone from voic­ing op­ti­mism to ba­si­cally clam­ming up about reach­ing a con­tract with the play­ers union any time soon.

Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell and NFLPA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor DeMau­rice Smith em­pha­size the need for sub­stan­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions now. Yet the two sides re­main far apart on the ma­jor is­sues, par­tic­u­larly the play­ers' share of rev­enues, and a switch to an 18game reg­u­lar sea­son.

"If both sides give a lit­tle, ev­ery­one will get a lot," Good­ell says, "es­pe­cially the fans." Coun­ters Smith, "The play­ers be­lieve this lock­out is go­ing to oc­cur."

They cer­tainly do, say Tom Con­don and Ben Do­gra, two of the NFL's top player agents, with a clien­tele that in­cludes the Man­ning broth­ers, Drew Brees and Pa­trick Wil­lis.

"I think the play­ers are tak­ing this very se­ri­ously," says Con­don, who has been through three other la­bor dis­putes: in 1974 as a rookie, in '82 as a part of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and as an out­side coun­sel to the play­ers in 1987. "They know what is at stake here and all the re­ac­tion to pre­par­ing for it has been pos­i­tive. We have en­cour­aged them to talk to their player reps, who are their di­rect lines to the union, to dis­cuss the is­sues, and to dis­cuss the is­sues among them­selves."

Bron­cos safety Brian Dawkins, a 15-year vet­eran, says he has ad­vised younger play­ers on sav­ing money. -Ap

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