Can NFL, union change their ways?

The NFL and its players union resume talks today, but can they learn from the mistakes of the 2006 CBA and get a viable long-term agreement in place instead of pushing through something that doesn't last?

For many NFL owners, George Santayana is the brilliant Latin guitarist whose discography includes hits like "Oye Como Va," "Black Magic Woman," and "Smooth," among others.

Now that the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed to an extension of the extension – these guys draw deadlines in something with the consistency of oatmeal, don't they? – there is a one-week breather for both sides to familiarize themselves with a bit of history.

Santayana, not Carlos Santana, is actually the Spanish-American poet and philosopher who uttered those often-paraphrased but still resonant cautionary words: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Maybe outside of Indianapolis Colts owner and popular-music buff Jim Irsay, none of the owners knows the difference, but they should.

Why the history lesson now, you ask? Why throw cold water on a day when talks to find labor peace resume? Why cast doubt on the abilities of men to hammer out in five days what they have been unable to accomplish in two years?

It should be recalled that the last time the league and the players association opted for the delaying, four-corner offense instead of allowing the 35-second clock to completely expire, they walked away with a six-year accord that never lasted long enough to even approach its end-point.

In March 2006, the owners huddled in Dallas, and with outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue driving home the lopsided deal with threats of gloom and doom, the NFL and NFLPA forged a six-year agreement. One of the most memorable moments after the accord came when Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson – one of two owners who voted against the CBA, with Cincinnati's Mike Brown being the other - explained that he simply didn't understand the deal, and that the parts of it he did comprehend were not all that great. In corners of the Dallas hotel, other owners quietly dismissed Wilson as an octogenarian alarmist.

Twenty-six months later, Wilson suddenly became a genius to his younger peers. The owners nay have understood the deal better than Wilson did – after all, they'd had two years to examine it but didn't like it any more than he did. They concluded that they had been summarily snookered by the late Gene Upshaw. And so they exercised their ability to opt out of it, setting up the current confrontation.

Even a biased guy with a vested interest, former NFL center and NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, a month ago termed the 2006 CBA "great" for the players. But the word most often used by owners is "unsustainable." The truth doubtless lies somewhere in the middle of those characterizations and now it is up to Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith – who, in case you haven't heard, "digs" NFL football – to divine the common ground.

Not with a CBA as one-sided as the last one, which clearly wasn't worth the paper on which it was written, nor the legal fees incurred having guys study its validity, but with a peace that lasts more than 26 months this time. In pushing through the last CBA, Tagliabue sought to leave the NFL without turmoil as he faded into retirement. The much younger Goodell, and the impressive-but-loquacious Smith should harbor no such agendas.

It also might not hurt Goodell, who keeps preaching that the game is really about the players and the fans, to concede that neither group wants the 18-game season that is his precious baby and oft-camouflaged method for increasing revenues for a league that already rakes in $9 billion annually.

Bottom line, these labor discussions are about money and egos, just like all the negotiations have been. There's a week now to figure out how to parse the former while leaving the latter at the front door.

Otherwise, the "halleluiah" calls that nationwide greeted the Friday extension will either be premature or long-since forgotten in two years. Smith has hinted at a seven-year agreement, and that seems about right. By then, the league will have fully determined how to fatten the coffers of everyone, and the two sides can butt heads over issues like how to divvy up the digital-technology revenues.

Carlos Santana – yeah, the guitarist – once noted, "You've got to change your evil ways." Remove the "evil," and maybe he's got a lesson over the next week, too.


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