It is the date we have not been able to speak without severe stuttering and consternation: M-M-M-March 3, at 11:59 p.m. If a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place by that time on Thursday the NFL goes into territory it has never explored and throws the offseason into turmoil.
As we have followed every step of the negotiations between the NFL owners and the players' union, we still have more to go before that 11:59 p.m. deadline on Thursday. There are, reportedly, more negotiations to begin on Tuesday on the heels of seven days of non-binding mediation last week. There is, reportedly, an owners meeting later in the week to discuss next steps, which could include enforcing a lockout of the players or moving the deadline back or, well, anything seems to be in play right now.
Meanwhile, coaches and player personnel departments continue their evaluations of draft-eligible players at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. There is a business-as-usual approach in that part of the football world, and so it is with an uneasy anticipation of what is ahead for the league -- the players, the coaches, the owners, the staff workers, the fans.
We're all going to feel the impact of this week for many moons to come. I can't tell you how I feel about the CBA. There was so much hope during the seven days of mediation, yet the reports that have emerged have painted a less-than-optimistic picture. But with more talked scheduled for Tuesday, there is added optimism.
Thus, it is difficult to feel one way or the other. Instead of devoting too much energy to that, the Combine has captured much of my attention. I don't read too much into bench press results or 40-yard dash times, and I know that neither Andy Reid nor Howie Roseman will give a hint as to what the Eagles are thinking, but the whole process is fascinating.
Players are scrutinized and poked and prodded and they are evaluated on every blink of the eye and word they speak. There are some players who are going to increase teams' awareness of them based on a time they run or an athletic feat they perform, but those players also must demonstrate on film that they can play the game.
The Eagles last year took note of linebacker Jamar Chaney's 40-yard dash time at the Combine and, combined with what they saw of him from his time at Mississippi State, used a seventh-round draft pick on him. It may go down as one of Roseman's best draft picks ever, because it sure looks like Chaney can play the game at a very high level in the NFL.
So there is worth to the Combine. I argue with anyone who suggests that the Eagles traded up in round one way back when in 1995 when they traded up to the seventh pick in the first round and selected Mike Mamula, the defensive end from Boston College, simply because he wowed the world at the Combine with his athletic performance. Mamula was, indeed, a workout warrior in Indianapolis, but the Eagles also took Mamula because he was a dominating player in college (29 sacks in his final two seasons there, including bowl games).
Mamula didn't live up to the hype of the seventh pick in the draft, but he recorded 31 1/2 sacks in 77 games with the Eagles and became a pretty darn good end. But he never, ever lived up to his Combine performance.
These days, Combine performances are downgraded in hype. Too many players who have jumped higher, run faster and lifted more have then gone on to stink in the NFL.
But the Combine rages on, more popular than ever. The NFL, for sure, is coming off a record-setting season for television ratings and popularity, which makes this week all the more crucial and concerning. There is so much at stake in the days ahead -- on the field and in the meeting rooms. Everything that happens here sets up the league for years to come.
Cross your fingers and hope for the best. The day we couldn't speak of is near, and the thoughts of what could be are both scary and exhilarating.