NEW ORLEANS - Bengals president Mike Brown, who along with the Bills' Ralph Wilson was skewered in 2006 for voting against a collective bargaining agreement his fellow NFL owners have since rejected, isn't beating his chest as the league lockout lurched through its second week.
But he is beating the drum for the players to return to the bargaining table and avoid the legal stew that began to heat up Monday here at the league's annual meetings when the NFL revealed its 57-page brief that counters the NFL Players Association's bid to stop the lockout with an injunction.
"The only solution is to sit down with the players face-to-face and come up with a deal that satisfies both sides," Brown said here after Monday's sessions. "The court maneuvers are basically a quest for leverage and I don't want that to get in the way with what matters, which is getting the season off in the right way and that can only be done with an agreement and by negotiating with the players. We both have to get satisfied on what works and I think that that's going to be the end result and that there's no reason to delay it unduly."
Brown said the owners and players are more than partners.
"We are Siamese twins; we are closer than married partners," he said. "We can't exist without each other. Instead of joining hands and jumping off the cliff why don't we join hands, sit down and see what works for both of us?"
While owners from such diverse markets as the Giants' John Mara and the Steelers' Art Rooney offered that Brown "knew something we didn't," Brown wasn't looking for back slaps, just a deal. He said the financial reasons weren't the only reasons he voted against it, recalling he wasn't aware of the non-economic factors of that '06 CBA extension until they were put on his desk back in Cincinnati a few days after the vote.
"Last time we learned a lot of the detail after the vote. I didn't think that was proper. You're buying a pig in the poke," Brown said. "That was last time. That's water over the damn. That's history. I do know one overriding thing: Nothing is going to get done until both parties sit down and have a serious negotiation."
Now all eyes are on the April 6 hearing in a St. Paul, Minn., court as the NFLPA tries to lift the lockout. The NFL said in Monday's filing the injunction issue shouldn't be in federal court at all, the decertification of the union was a sham and the players' claim of "irreparable harm" has no merit.
NFL officials called on the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 1932 legislation passed with the intent of limiting crackdowns on unions with the league saying the law also protects an employer's right to impose a lockout in a labor dispute.
Jerry Richardson, the Panthers owner who along with Brown is on the NFL's executive committee of the Management Council that is overseeing the negotiations, said the 10 members of that group are as united as they've ever been.
No one knows how this April 6 hearing is going to go or what the timeline is. NFL officials don't believe Judge Susan Nelson is going to rule from the bench after the hearing in which the NFLPA is hoping to lift the lockout with an injunction. The decision figures to be made in about a week after April 6 and either way it's going to be appealed before a panel of three judges. That would point to a late April, early May decision.
But if the NFLPA is successful in lifting the injunction and the NFL goes back to work, league officials are hoping for guidance from the court.
"If ordered back to work under the antitrust laws, how do we go back to work in a way that does not violate the antitrust laws?" one asked. "That's a question we'll ask if the court does grant an injunction requiring an end of the lockout. We'll say to the court there is an incongruity. Under the antitrust laws, you must end the lockout, but under antitrust laws you may be subject to antitrust violations just from continuing to operate as a league. So I think that's something the court is going to have to sort out. I don't think it's an easy injunction ... it's a thorny problem."
But since there are going to be "legal hoops" to be jumped through if it gets to that point, the NFL thinks it will get a clue from the rulings.
"(The court) would say what we were prevented from doing; not what we were required to do," said one NFL official.
Brown is hoping that federal mediator George Cohen gets back in the mix.
"The thing that makes best sense is get the mediator involved and go about it that way. We were making strong efforts within doable range," Brown said. "We thought our last offer was fair and then they were out the door on the way to the courthouse. We're still waiting for them to come back and talk. All these goings-on are interesting and none of them are going to get us where we have to get. At some point the players have to sit down with the owners and make a deal. It's real simple."