The next move in the collective bargaining talks belongs to the owners. And it probably will determine whether there will be a new deal that won't interrupt the football offseason as we know it.
All along, I have been optimistic that a deal can be done by March 15. The date is arbitrary, based mostly on the belief that both sides really want to get something done. The NFLPA lived up to the faith I had in both sides by making what I consider the perfect proposal. That offer of a 50-50 split of all revenues wasn't going to bring immediate harmony, but it showed what I thought all along -- that the players want to get a deal done.
In a Saturday meeting during Super Bowl week, both sides set aside two days a week through the end of the month to move the process. Although subcommittees from both sides have kept talking, the owners haven't changed their stance. In a business that grosses between $9 billion and $10 billion per year, the owners insist on receiving another $1 billion credit (they already receive $1 billion under the current CBA) for stadium financing and operating costs.
Even though they're not ready to make a deal, the owners need to make a counter that addresses their needs and acknowledges the movement of the players. No counter would show what players have feared for a long time -- that owners want to use a lockout to win the talks.
For everyone's sake, let's hope that's not the case.
From the inbox
Q: I have seen a lot of people saying the Vikings should take Cam Newton with the 12th pick, which is too high in my mind. The team has a lot of needs and not many picks this year. What are your thoughts?
Matt in Melrose, Minn.
A: I get the feeling the Vikings will lean toward getting a veteran quarterback, although Newton has to be intriguing. I'm sure he reminds the Vikings' brass of their days with Daunte Culpepper. But this also is a veteran team with a short window to win. With this being the last year of the Metrodome lease, the team will lean toward winning now instead of getting a quarterback for later. Offensive line and cornerback are two of the bigger needs, along with safety.
Q: I believe the Atlanta Falcons need a speed receiver to complement WR Roddy White and a pass-catching speed back to complement RB Michael Turner. I also think they need to draft a tight end who can replace the aging Tony Gonzalez. Thus, I think the Falcons will have an offense-heavy draft similar to the defense-heavy draft they had in 2009. Your thoughts?
Junior in Atlanta
A: Don't forget the defense. The Falcons need a young pass-rusher to take over for John Abraham. A speed receiver would be a luxury. What the Falcons need more than anything else is better production from the slot receiver. I thought Harry Douglas was going to have a breakthrough season, but he didn't. Jerious Norwood was supposed to be the speed back, but he's been hurt too much the past two years to count on. I'm with you on the speed back, but don't forget the defense.
Q: With the recent Hall of Fame class settled, I wanted to ask why the classes are so limited? Why limit how many can get in? I wouldn't want to see a diluted Hall of Fame, but perhaps open it to a few more spots. A backlog of candidates means that every year the memory of their time playing/coaching fades. This is not a current question, just one I think about every year when people complain about so and so being snubbed.
Joe in London
A: The Pro Football Hall of Fame handles the number of candidates. Voters don't have a say. The maximum is currently five modern-day candidates and two senior candidates in a year. It has been suggested that there should be a clean-up year to let some of the deserving candidates get in, but the Hall believes it would be too much. The Hall thinks going over seven in one class could be overkill. The night of speeches would be too long. What the Hall doesn't want to do is diminish how precious it is to be enshrined. In most years, we believe there are 14 or 15 legitimate Hall of Famers in the final 15. It just takes time to get them in.
Q: I want to bring up an issue that maybe you can explain for me involving the NFL draft. The NFL uses regular-season record to determine draft order. The Saints were a No. 5 seed, went on the road in Round 1 of the playoffs and have to pick after No. 3/4 seeds Indianapolis, Philly and K.C., who all had home playoff games. The way it is set up actually makes teams that at the end of the regular season have clinched certain seeds want to lose just so their draft order can improve. Shouldn't the draft order for playoff teams be determined differently, perhaps by their seeds, not their regular-season records?
Hoss in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
A: After the Chargers made the playoffs with an 8-8 record and got a pretty high spot in the draft order, the NFL changed the rules. It broke off all the teams that didn't make the playoffs. It gave teams with the worst records the higher spots and broke ties by giving the teams with the easier schedules the higher spots. The seeds of teams in the playoffs don't matter. The Saints are slotted by record and schedule, among the playoff teams. I don't see anything unfair about their spot in the draft.
Q: Your QB rankings are stuck in 2008. How can you not put Aaron Rodgers No. 1? I understand that he doesn't have the complete body of work like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But it's all about today and tomorrow, and honestly, who would your rather have next year and for the foreseeable future? Give me Rodgers for the next six years at least. He's got a young, talented supporting cast, and Rodgers is only going to get better, as opposed to the others who are winding down their respective careers
Jesse in Indianapolis
A: Rodgers isn't a one-year wonder, but Manning, Brady and Brees have been putting together great years for a longer period of time. Let him do this for several years and then re-evaluate. If you were a Brees fan, you would have been outraged last year if he weren't ranked ahead of Manning and Brady. Don't forget, Brady was the unanimous choice for MVP this season. He certainly wasn't stuck in 2008.
Q: There seem to be a lot of negative reports about Cowboys Stadium post-Super Bowl. But there's one issue not being addressed that I think should: the field. With players slipping and sliding the whole game, you'd think it was made of ice. With a recent survey of the players' union that showed almost 90 percent of players believe artificial turf causes more soreness and fatigue and is more likely to shorten careers, isn't it time to re-examine artificial fields and possibly find a better solution?
Mark in Greensboro, N.C.
A: Actually, the Cowboys Stadium field was judged to be reasonably good by the players. Safety is a big part of the NFL nowadays and fields will be examined on a regular basis. The players seem to accept field turf. If you looked at the survey, players weren't happy with some of the grass fields in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Oakland and other places. The players also voted that artificial turf is preferable in cold-weather cities, particularly those that have college and high school teams using the stadium.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.