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It appears that the millionaires and billionaires are close to putting their differences aside, as multiple reports from league and player sources have indicated that the sides are in “deal making mode.” More importantly, the legal figureheads on both sides have returned to negotiations (after two weeks of negotiations sans lawyers) and the hope is that a deal will be hammered out in the next two to four weeks. Owners have been told to keep their schedules open next Wednesday, as the belief is that a Tuesday meeting may spill over to the next day, due to the progress being made.
What prompted this movement? Oral arguments heard by the Eighth Circuit on June 3rd. During those arguments the owners contended that this isn’t an antitrust dispute, but that the player’s union decertification is a sham and that this is really a labor dispute. The players continued to argue that they don’t have to be unionized, and that they can decertify at will. Immediate impressions appeared to favor the owners. The same three judge panel that ruled 2-1 to reinstate the lockout heard oral arguments, and the dissenting judge in that vote ended oral arguments by telling the two sides that they might not like the decision that the court forces onto them, in an effort to get the two sides to settle out of court.
The one group of players that will likely see the most benefit from a deal getting done as quickly as possible are also among the most unheralded, undrafted free agents. Due to the lockout these players have not been able to be in contact with any NFL teams, which has led to the UFL attempting to “poach” undrafted players by offering them contracts while the NFL’s status is still in limbo.
However, it appears that some NFL teams may not be playing by the rules. Six NFL agents, speaking on conditions of anonymity, have said that contact with their undrafted clients has been business as usual, minus the signed contract at the end. If any actual evidence of tampering with undrafted players comes to fruition, the teams in violation of league rules could be subjected to fines and the possible loss of future draft picks. The Bengals, Dolphins, and Ravens have each been rumored to have been in contact with undrafted free agent center Tim Barnes. However, all three teams have publicly denied the report, which came from Tim Barnes himself. It will be interesting to see if the NFL decides that evidence from Mr. Barnes himself is enough to get these teams in trouble.
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