People around the NFL greeted Friday's seven-day extension to the labor agreement almost unilaterally as a good sign, including one Pittsburgh lawyer who has been involved in the league for nearly four decades.
Ralph Cindrich played in the NFL, represented hundreds of players as one of the more prominent agents in the NFL and remains in that business while he also pursues teaching international law in Europe. He has been through strikes as a player and as an agent and believes this time a work stoppage can be avoided with what occurred in Washington the past few days.
"That's extremely positive anytime you have an extension, particular for that period of time," Cindrich said from Miami, where he was preparing to give a speech on international law. "You are acknowledging that you can see a deal somewhere in sight or know it's there even if it's shadowed by the force.
"You know they still have serious issues, but that they want to get something done. I don't know how they can say anything but that it's positive."
Cindrich believes neither side wants the dispute to wind up in litigation -- with the NFL locking out players and the union decertifying -- although he believes the players might have an advantage there. Judge David Doty of the federal district in Minneapolis remains in charge of any court action brought by the union and has been since the early 1990s. It was Doty who practically forced the NFL to come to terms with the union in '93, which forged a collective bargaining agreement that has been in effect through multiple extensions until now.
"In the courts, if it goes 12 rounds, the owners get knocked out," Cindrich predicted. "They know that. It's the only reason there was a settlement the last time. The owners have too many things going against them if it's a long, drawn-out one."
It was Judge Doty who Tuesday knocked down the guaranteed $4 billion in payments from television the NFL owners were to receive even if they locked the players out. That decision may be one reason owners have taken the discussions before a mediator in Washington more seriously since then.
"Judge Doty knows them inside and out and he doesn't have a high opinion at all of NFL management after all these years of dealing with them," Cindrich said.
He said that Doty showed his disdain for their tactics when, in the judge's decision, "he used words like breach of good faith, breach of trust."
"The owners have been trying hard to get him out of there and that's generally not going to happen, not in federal district courts," Cindrich said.
One way for the owners to avoid Doty would be for them to come to a new collective bargaining agreement with their players. Cindrich believes it can happen by next week.
"Seven days should be enough time to get a deal done," Cindrich said. "It would be extremely unique but given everything, they have a long way to go, but seven days with a mediator? I think they have better than a 50 percent chance to get it done within that time."
On the other hand, if they do not, it could make for a long, protracted dispute, Cindrich said.
"It's extremely dangerous if they don't get it done because any negotiating professional knows when you get close to a deal and you're backing away and you let it go, you're almost starting all over again. It's an extremely difficult time."
Unless a new CBA grants another window for teams to have an exclusive period to sign their own impending free agents, Ike Taylor will hit the open market and be available to any team that wants to sign him.
The Steelers did not sign their best cornerback Thursday, the final day in which they could do so before he could become a free agent. The CBA extension did not change that and all impending free agents are in limbo at the moment -- they are players without a team because no one can sign them until there is a new labor agreement.
Other NFL teams signed a slew of their own free agents Thursday; the Steelers signed none.
Taylor is not the only Steelers player about to become unrestricted, only their most prominent.
Others include Mewelde Moore, Trai Essex, Jonathan Scott, Chris Hoke, Nick Eason, Keyaron Fox, Anthony Madison, Greg Warren and Shaun Suisham.
There still may be doubt about players such as Willie Colon, William Gay and Matt Spaeth -- all received tenders as restricted free agents, but under CBA rules before last year they would have been unrestricted after putting in at least four years service.
It's also unknown whether the "franchise" tag will be included in a new CBA.
If it is, the Steelers have applied it to LaMarr Woodley and would maintain their rights to him. If it is not included, Woodley could become an unrestricted free agent.
But those who clearly fall into the realm of unrestricted free agents likely will be able to start soliciting offers once there is a new CBA.
That does not necessarily mean the Steelers will lose Taylor or the others who are unrestricted. Other Steelers have hit the open market and returned to them, most recently safety Ryan Clark.
Can the NFL learn any lessons from the play stoppages by the NHL and MLB? See Sunday's Post-Gazette for more.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published March 5, 2011 5:00 AM