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As talks get contentious, NFL team owners open to 'all options' in next 72 hours – including halting training camp

·NFL columnist
·3-min read

The labor talks between the NFL and the players union are creeping into combative territory.

Coming off Wednesday’s negotiations, when NFL team owners pressed for a resolution of shared revenue loss prior to training camps opening Tuesday, the rhetoric between the two sides escalated Thursday. A source with knowledge of the negotiations told Yahoo Sports that franchise owners have expressed a willingness to consider “all options” if talks break down over revenue drawbacks.

The source said “options” for team owners ranged from: closing the doors to training camp prior to veterans arriving for the Tuesday start; instituting a deadline during camps that would trigger a close down if a deal hasn’t been reached; or instituting a deadline that would halt the start of the season in the event of an impasse on any of the financial points of an agreement.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks in front of a goal post on one of the practice fields on the first day of drills at their NFL football training camp practice in Latrobe, Pa., Friday, July 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin patrols practice at training camp in Latrobe, Pa., in 2019. Across most of the league, camp is scheduled to open Tuesday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Players’ salaries at heart of issue

The core issue over the finances — which is now the most pressing concern for club owners — is how players will share in revenue losses from 2020 and whether they will take salary adjustments if a season is abbreviated by COVID-19 complications. A league source told Yahoo Sports on Thursday that the union is continuing to take the stance that players should be paid in full once the season begins and contracts are officially guaranteed. The league source added that some team owners have expressed that the season should not begin until players agree to salary adjustments in the event of a stoppage or trimming of the season.

Sources also told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that there is a belief that if the NFL season began without an agreement addressing salary adjustments in a stoppage, team owners could decline to continue paying players if a stoppage occurred and then litigate the matter in court.

Whatever path franchise owners choose, it has become increasingly clear that the next 72 hours will be key for both sides. While the NFLPA has urged patience from players and told them that the clock is ultimately going to work in their favor as the opening of camps draws near, club owners have ratcheted up demands on getting a completed deal by the end of the weekend. That pressure increased exponentially after the NFL agreed to meet the NFLPA’s demands of canceling the preseason and ramping up COVID-19 testing at a significant cost.

Weekend talks will be critical

The two sides are expected to continue negotiating through the weekend in hopes of avoiding a cratering of talks, most of which have been fruitful over the past two weeks. The Washington Post quoted a source on Thursday who indicated that if talks sour, the NFL team owners “could very well shut down the camps and send players home.” Conversely, the NFL Network reported that franchise owners could delay the start of camp and extend the virtual activities that are already ongoing.

The rhetoric triggered a response from NFLPA executive George Atallah, who tweeted Thursday afternoon: “Let me get this straight: when players wanted to wait until safety protocols finished to come in, management set reporting dates before that was all done. Now that coronavirus protocols are done, they leak a threat to shut down because they don’t have players’ money.”

The NFLPA's player representatives for each team are scheduled to have a conference call Friday to discuss the latest in talks, including potential outcomes if an impasse carries into the Tuesday start date for full training camps.

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