With Friday's extended CBA-talks deadline news, fans and league observers seemed to flip from unbearable gloom to optimism, almost overnight. It's hard not to get caught up in that hopeful excitement, especially since the Free Agent period has now been officially put on hold.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith have of course been tight-lipped over the course of the last week, a condition set upon by both sides as they entered more aggressive talks. Aside from the obvious issues that need to be hammered out, there's one other factor that could take this to another extension, or cause the entire thing to fall apart. The issue of saving face.
Appointed to his position by the NFL owners, Goodell's calm tough guy act in the media prior to the commencement of talks had worn thin. Goodell has been good for the league, implementing positive changes (for the most part), and being a strong face of the league since he took over for Paul Tagliabue in 2006. However, he will likely be remembered for how the current CBA strife shakes out.
Goodell has been walking a thin line on at least one important issue for a while now. No matter how he or proponents of the 18-game schedule try to spin it, it does not jibe with the ongoing player safety referendums that are constantly flying in the NFL. This one is especially interesting because it sets up a very direct battle between the league making more money, and the league protecting its greatest assets, the players. Goodell continues to propagate the falsehood that the fans are overwhelmingly in favor of an extended regular season, even in the face of polls that show that is not the case at all.
The 18-game season, however, is a virtual certainty at this point. There's just too much money to be made, and some would argue it's the natural evolution of a league that has already (in the modern era) gone from 12, to 14, to 16 games.
Goodell's main (only?) objective is to do right by the NFL owners, but this player safety vs. extended schedule issue is going to be a constant source of agitation between he and the players, at least until the league gets a few 18-game seasons under its collective belt.
DeMaurice Smith has a more difficult path to traverse. Smith shocked the NFL-world by rocketing past other more qualified candidates when he took over as NFLPA Executive Director. Reportedly, a large part of that stunning victory was his presentation on the current CBA issues, for which at the time the deadline was two years away.
Smith certainly likes to project the "bulldog" image in his public appearances, and he as a lot of bark to back up now that he is in the ring with Goodell and the NFL owners. With his CBA plan of attack being such a huge part of why he was elected to his position in the first place, Smith isn't going to budge much on his plan unless he feels like the players have his back 100%.
Overwhelming public opinion supports the players, or neither side at all in this conflict (only the owners seem to support the owners in this fight). That may seem like a valuable weapon for Smith to wield, but I must say that the owners, a bunch of guys who charge ridiculous amounts of money for meaningless preseason games and parking on top of ever-rising ticket prices, don't really give a rip about what the fans think as long as the stadiums are full.
That's not to say Smith has fan interest at heart. He has to hope that the inevitable caving-in by his side to most of what the owners want will be met from the players with a slap on the back and a "hey, they're the owners. They are ultimately going to win" attitude.
Meanwhile, we sit. And we wait. Neither side wants this to end up in a courtroom. They will get a deal done, whether it be at the end of the current extension, or the next extension, or the one after that. The future of the league is not in doubt, but the way business is done (and how football is played) will certainly be altered.