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Somebody Blinked

Mar 2, 2006, 10:11 PM EST

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Somebody Blinked

It ain’t over until it’s over. And it was over. . .until it wasn’t.

The CBA negotiations have gone into overtime.

Sometime between this morning, when the NFL announced that the owners had voted unanimously to break off talks with the NFL Players Association and about 5:00 this evening, when the NFL announced that the free agency period would be delayed for three days in order for further talks with the NFLPA to take place, something happened.

Somebody blinked.

Earlier in the day, it appeared that virtually everyone involved was standing at the door of his own personal hell and was willing to walk through that door and into the teeth of whatever was awaiting them. For some, like the Redskins Dan Snyder, it was cap hell. For the players it was the certainty of a bloodbath of veterans getting cut and replaced by minimum-wage rookies and the uncertainty of a free agent market skewed by rules designed as poison pills to prevent things from ever getting to that point. For other owners, the so-called small-market teams, it was the prospect of a 2007 season without a salary cap, knowing that they wouldn’t possibly be able to keep up with the teams with deeper pockets. For Paul Tagliabue, it was facing going into retirement in a few years with the legacy of leaving with scorched earth behind him. And Gene Upshaw, while he’s managed labor peace well, is looking at again stepping into an arena where he’s not been very successful. He’s 0-2 in games of brinksmanship with the NFL owners as his union was routed in both league players strikes in 1982 and 1987.

So, standing at the precipice, somebody got a bit wobbly. The brave talk, the unanimous votes, the “we’ll play it out and see what happens” rhetoric of earlier in the day and the week suddenly rang hallow in someone’s mind. It was all false bravado. That somebody said, I can’t possibly be this dumb, can I? I can’t let this happen.

And he blinked.

Then he went to the phone and calls were made and all of a sudden things that appeared to be etched in stone in the morning suddenly transformed into mere lines in the sand. The start of free agency was delayed even though both sides were adamant that it would not be just a couple of days ago.

For both sides to have agreed to the delay, someone must have put a magic number out there, one that was, at the very least, good enough to the other side to jump start talks that were as dead as dead could be. That magic number must have represented enough movement for the other side to say, hey, I didn’t really want to go through that door anyway. Couldn’t hurt to sit down and talk a few more days, could it? Because I’m not really sure what I was going to do tomorrow when all the stuff hit the fan, anyway.

So the millionaire players and the billionaire owners will take another three days—or maybe longer, who knows–to try to decide how to split up this huge pile of money.

And either somebody will blink one last time and a deal will be done or all of the parties involved will return to the gates of hell and pass through them.

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