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Playing The Waiting Game Once Again

The minutes race by on the way to today's 5 p.m. deadline for the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the tensions rise as reports measure the progress of the negotiations. Nervous times, once again. What does it mean to have come this far in the talks without any definitive sense of the tone of the two sides?

It is hard, from the fan perspective, to focus on April's NFL draft. The coaches and scouts are able to set aside the speculation of the CBA and continue their draft preparation. There is a sense of business as usual from that standpoint.

For the rest of us, the possibilities are endless. Will the Owners and Players Association announce at some point this afternoon that they have agreed to another extension to work toward a CBA settlement? Will the players union decertify, thus sending into orbit potential mayhem. The term to consider is "work stoppage," a scary thought for everyone.

This is a critical point in the negotiations. I am here, at the NovaCare Complex, far removed from the proceedings, left to have conversations internally and to check the headlines in 10-minute increments.

There is one scenario floating around out there that the league year will start sometime in the next few weeks and that every player without a contract would immediately become a free agent, and that teams would have roughly a week to conduct its business and shape its roster before the draft. What would that mean for Michael Vick, who signed a one-year contract last week under the franchise tag? Would that contract still be valid?

There are so many questions and concerns. The minute-by-minute reports are unsettling, to say the least. We remain in a state of suspension.

We are powerless.

It appears remote, at best, that the sides will come to an agreement on a new contract prior to the 5 p.m. deadline today. Beyond that, well, I don't know what to think. I was much more optimistic early in the week, believing then that two sides would make substantial progress and have a strong outline on many of the major issues, but would need another extension to dot the I's and cross the T's.

These last few days, according to the reports, have produced more division than unity. Now, as the deadline is upon us, the future is uncertain and unsettling.

The mood at the NovaCare Complex? It's quiet. The coaches are in their offices, watching draft prospects. The personnel department continues to get ready for April 28. The business people are conducting business. The locker room is open, but there isn't much action. Players trickle in here and there for treatment, for a workout. They wonder the same thing:

What is next? The NFL is at a crossroads in negotiations with the players union, and we are all put on hold as we wait for the deadline to arrive.

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