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Finally, sensibility starting to win out in NFL labor talks

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - At the time of the year when the days are at their longest in this part of the world, a promising ray of light at long last appears to be shining over what's been a painfully gloomy period in NFL history.

The most significant breakthrough of the ongoing labor standoff occurred with Tuesday's revelation that the owners and the NFL Players Association have tentatively agreed on a distribution amount of the total revenue generated by the league. With the largest hurdle to a collective bargaining pact now seemingly cleared, the two sides can finally take the necessary steps towards drawing up a plan that can not only allow a full 2011 season to take place, but lays the groundwork for continued growth and profit in the future.

Tuesday's important development wouldn't have taken place without critical concessions from both parties, a refreshing approach by two groups that have been predominantly labeled by us outsiders as self-serving and indifferent to the best interests of the game all throughout this work stoppage, which reached the 100-day milestone on Thursday. Word is the union is amenable to receiving a 48 percent share of the money pie, a meaningful cut compared to past years, while the owners have backed off the ridiculous demands they harbored in the infancy of the lockout, when the league proposed a 60/40 split and asked for a sizeable upgrade in expense credits to combat growing operating costs.

The union's willingness to accept a lesser percentage (they had received an estimated 50.06 to 52.74 percent of all monies between 2002 and last season) is in part a byproduct of last month's key ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit which granted a stay of the lockout, but it's also a perceptive observation of the bigger picture at hand. With a new television contract up for bidding in a couple of years as well as a full-season Thursday night package that would bring in even more network dollars possibly in the works, the players will almost certainly have more money at their disposal as revenues continue to soar in the coming seasons.

There's also a stipulation in the new proposal requiring teams to commit in cash to a minimum of 90 to 93 percent of the established spending cap in player salaries, which will help ensure that the employees get their just due.

And the union does appear to have won two other major battles in the labor war, which refutes the notion of observers who may view the percentage reduction as a sign that the players are losing the fight. They were presumably able to keep unrestricted free agency at the old CBA's pre- expiration level of four accrued seasons, and the league seems resigned to waive the white flag on its controversial designs on an 18-game schedule for future years -- a measure the players staunchly opposed -- at least for the time being.

I for one have come down pretty hard on NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith and his colleagues in past columns over the tactics they've used over the duration of the lockout. In truth, the union's procedure of using litigation over negotiation was its best course of action to try to achieve the most favorable outcome possible for the players. Once that avenue was cut off due to the most recent ruling of the courts, the NFLPA quickly switched their strategy to help facilitate this week's progress, and should be commended for doing so.

While the latest developments are certainly encouraging, keep in mind that there's still much more to be done before a working agreement is indeed reached. Items such as a rookie wage scale and improving benefits for retired players still need to be ironed out, and some potential stumbling blocks do remain present.

There are rumblings that a faction of owners, most likely those of smaller market franchises that take in less money, aren't pleased about the salary cap floor being raised, and the free agency situation may not be completely resolved, as there's been talk of teams wanting the opportunity to match competitive offers for a handful of their top players because of the time constraints this shortened offseason will present.

And don't forget that the lawyers, the single biggest impediment throughout this whole process, are still lurking in the shadows nearby.

In short, this is a race that's far from being over. But at least now we're seeing something resembling a finish line.

 

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