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Blame NFL owners for latest delay in deal

Somehow, it seemed more amusing when Lucy did it to Charlie Brown.

Lucy, at least, didn't tease an entire nation. She didn't mess with the paychecks of common folks working in the offices of every NFL city. She didn't fly off in her private jet after pulling the football out from under poor saps everywhere.

Other than that, NFL owners were quite a hoot on Thursday.

For days, perhaps even weeks, sources in the league have been whispering that an agreement with players was on the way. The lockout was almost over. Preseason would be saved. The regular season was around the corner.

Except, oh by the way, this isn't the deal we negotiated.

Color me cynical, but I'm about as shocked at this news as Captain Renault was when he discovered there was gambling going on in Casablanca.

So is this latest snag a dealbreaker?

Absolutely not. This will eventually get resolved. Perhaps as soon as today.

It just felt terribly manipulative of NFL owners to ratify an agreement Thursday that commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged the players had not yet approved.

Because the league initially portrayed it as if it were all but a done deal. It announced a timeline. It talked about players showing up in camp within 48 hours. It did everything but put on party hats and pass out Al Davis' meds.

And, in retrospect, it makes you wonder whether all the happy, cheerful news wasn't a part of the game plan. That maybe league sources were creating momentum for a deal that apparently was going to be shoved down the throats of players at the last minute.

Think about it. Players were getting excited about getting back to camp and getting paid. Fans were pumped about the idea of seeing real, live football in a matter of days.

The owners had the entire football-watching world jazzed about the potential of a settlement. They created a scenario where everyone expected games to resume, and now they can point at the players and say, "Hey, they're the ones who haven't agreed."

If that was the strategy, we're talking some real Machiavelli maneuvering. Or maybe Borgia bull. Either way, it was not the way they draw it up in Mediation 101.

Of course, there's a chance I'm being too harsh. That I'm staring so hard and so deep that I can see all the way to Dealey Plaza.

Maybe the owners really did think they had an agreement and figured the players were ready to rubber stamp it. I just think the way they went about it looks awfully suspicious.

It seems to fly in the face of good-faith negotiations to spend four months working on a deal, then go ahead and vote before everyone had a chance to sign off on it.

Yes, the owners were all together for a meeting in Atlanta. Yes, it was much easier to vote with everyone sitting in the same ballroom.

But, come on, couldn't you just wait another day or two and have a conference call when you were certain everyone was on the same page?

Now the onus is on the players. They will look like the bad guys if they don't approve a deal that suits the owners just fine. Now the blood will be on their hands.

But just remember, from the very beginning, it was the owners who decided the 2011 football season was in jeopardy. They're the ones who opted out of the previous labor agreement. They're the ones who were seeking concessions from players. They're the ones who locked the doors to the locker rooms.

Look, I'm not crying for the players. A lot of them have so much money they're already putting funds aside for BMWs for their great grandchildren.

It's just that Thursday felt like too much of a charade. It felt as if someone was orchestrating news leaks to titillate the public and exert pressure on the players.

So where does that leave us now?

I honestly have no idea.

Conflicting reports were flying in every direction Thursday night. The players voted to reject the deal. No, wait, they didn't even bother to vote.

They're okay with the details. Hold on, they're angry with some of the language. Wait, Howard Dean is screaming about going to Canton and taking back the Hall of Fame.

In other words, it is difficult to accurately predict.

My sense is that this has gotten too far down the road for the players to tear it up now. And, if that's the case, the league's ploy may have worked to perfection.

And I'm not pretending these negotiations aren't complex and critical. The NFL is a money-making machine and even tiny changes to a labor agreement can mean hundreds of millions of dollars flowing from one direction to another every single year.

So I don't blame the owners for fighting for their investments. And I don't blame the players for trying to hold on to their wallets, their health and their dignity.

I just wish Thursday didn't feel like such a tease.

Good grief.

Blame NFL owners for latest delay in deal 07/21/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 11:46am]
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