Owners Will Take It Or Leave It On Tuesday

There will be one final bit of drama in the NFL labor talks on Tuesday, an up or down vote on what the union says is its last proposal.

The CBA extension went into another overtime period on Sunday night in what was literally an 11th-hour move. Earlier Sunday evening, talks that had looked quite promising earlier in the day had broken off and, once again, they appeared deader than dead. Announcements of player releases, such as those of Kerry Collins and Issac Bruce, and cap-related contract restructures for players such as Derrick Brooks, hit the wires. Black Sunday was well underway.

Then, twenty minutes before teams were scheduled to be under the $94.5 million salary cap and less than an hour before free agency was supposed to begin, there was yet another turn. There was an announcement that the free agent signing period was delayed for another 72 hours. This was somewhat puzzling as there were no talks ongoing and Gene Upshaw had said that he would not agree to another extension (such a move requires the approval of both the league and the union) unless a deal was essentially done.

In the early morning hours, word filtered out that the delay came as a result of Paul Tagliabue making a call to Upshaw and making an offer. It was not a counter offer, but an offer to take the union's last proposal and put it to the owners for a vote. Upshaw agreed and the delay was announced.

Details of that deal are not currently available, although some may be released later on Monday as they are hammered out by the two sides. It was believed that the players got 59.5% of revenues and the league got some of the cash over cap spending limitations it had been seeking. The union says that this is its final offer and, while such pronouncements have been proven to be worthless up until now, there is every reason to believe that this is indeed the case.

There has been some disagreement this morning on what the prospects for approval of the deal are. Reports earlier this morning from Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported that it seemed to be done deal and Chris Mortensen of ESPN used the words "agreement in principle" to describe the arrangement between Upshaw and Tagliabue. Maske reported that, according to multiple sources, Tagliabue told the union that he would give the proposal his backing at the owners meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Dallas.

However, an NFL spokesman has said that the proposal that the owners will vote on will not carry Tagliabue's endorsement and he will not offer a recommendation as to whether or not it should be ratified.

Obviously, there's a pretty big difference in between the two scenarios. If Tagliabue goes into the meetings, sells the proposal as his own, goes around the room and twists arms and puts his heart and soul into selling the proposal, the chances of it passing are greatly enhanced. If he takes the plan, walks into the room with it like he's holding a dead fish, dumps it on the table and says, go at it guys, the odds of it passing are considerably lower.

Tagliabue is in a tough spot. He's expected to announce his retirement at any time. The league has experienced an incredible period of growth and prosperity due in no small part to the labor peace that has the NFL has enjoyed for 18 years. The last thing in the world he wants to do is to undo his legacy and leave his post under the cloud of an impending labor showdown.

So if Tagliabue wants to avert that fate, no matter how ugly this baby may be, Tagliabue is going to have to bring it into the room beaming and smiling and talking about how cute it is. When it's pointed out that the baby has a big nose and funny ears, he'll have to say that it doesn't cry much and has ten fingers and ten toes. And then when some owners object and say, Tags, this is a really, really ugly baby he's going to have to say that it's the only baby they're going to get and they'd darn well better adopt it.

And, like other commissioners before him he'll have to go around the room and twist arms, cajole, threaten, flatter, and otherwise coerce 24 owners to vote for the deal.

The conventional wisdom out there is that the plan will get passed, but we've seen just how wrong that line of thinking has been during this whole thing.

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