CHICAGO – For now, optimism is the approach for NFL owners in negotiations with the players on a new collective bargaining agreement.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Tuesday it's a realistic goal to reach a new CBA before the end of the season. At the conclusion of the league's fall meetings, Kraft said "we're moving ahead. I'd like to see this get done before the season ends." Asked if that was a realistic objective, he added "to me it is."
Even as the 32 owners were discussing strategies for negotiations with the NFL Players Association and the possibility of a work stoppage, many of them were expressing confidence that pro football is not headed for a lockout. The CBA expires in March, and union officials steadfastly claim they expect to be locked out if a new deal isn't reached.
"It's taken a lot of time and energy to build the league into what it is and we want to keep it going," Colts owner Jimmy Irsay said Tuesday. "I don't think it's doomsday, and we're taking it a day at a time. Everybody is engaged, and from my perspective the key thing is to find a solution. That's where both sides are.
"I know that energy (to reach a deal) will be there."
Added Commissioner Roger Goodell: "Our issue is to get there sooner rather than later, bargaining in good faith and get an agreement with the players that is fair."
NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, who recently retired after a 16-year playing career, also called for an early agreement.
"We should recognize the business we are both in and for our fans and workers, let's wrap this up by the holidays," Mawae told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "I agree on both time and energy. Since 2006, the players contributed almost $3 billion to stadium construction and improvements, so our investment is at risk, too. The players are the ones losing their health care, and yet it was the owners who opted out of this deal and are threatening a lockout."
Expanding the regular season to 18 games was not discussed, except when Irsay joked about it. Colts President Bill Polian said recently that it was a "fait accompli," and Polian was admonished by Goodell.
"There's nothing else to report," Irsay said with a laugh. "My president said some things and then the commissioner said some things to him and I said some things."
Goodell reiterated Tuesday that the league wants all of its partners involved in such a decision.
"We're trying to do it the right way, in a comprehensive fashion and understanding all perspectives of this," Goodell said. "We recognize the player health safety issues and what we do to prepare our players in the offseason. I think we've been both thoughtful and intelligent. We made a proposal to the players on this.
"Every day you go by without implementing it, that's probably another day it is into the future. We're not as focused on when as much as doing it properly."
Goodell and the NFL Alumni announced a partnership to benefit retired players that will include the Gay Culverhouse Players' Outreach Program.
Efforts will include hiring case workers, establishment of a toll-free hotline and personal contact with retired players and their families through events sponsored by NFL Alumni and the Culverhouse program.
"There are very comprehensive benefits and services available," Goodell said. "But too often former players and their families don't know what they are or how to gain access to the programs."
Hall of Famer Mike Ditka spoke to the owners about treatment of retired players. Ditka is an active critic of how the league has handled taking care of retired players.
"Ain't no one going broke in football," Ditka said. "Greed is a great sin."