If the speculation on ProFootballTalk is any indication, the NFL and the players could reach an agreement as soon as the July 4th holiday.  While none of us should be holding our collective breath, signs of progress are always welcome.

What will be interesting if a deal gets done in next few weeks is how little it will matter in such a short amount of time afterward.  The talk of a potential lockout loomed large over the 2010 regular season, made the Super Bowl a more somber occasion than usual, and has dominated any and all football news since February.  The lockout has prevented teams from doing a lot of the administrative business they’re used to doing during the spring months, and provided the unorthodox format for an NFL draft that took place before any free agents were signed or players were traded.

The sum total of these effects has seemed like a monumental albatross hanging over the nation’s greatest league.  While this all seems important now, my gut feeling is that inside of a year, it will hardly seem memorable.

Since I often encounter fairly active baseball fans who forget that there was no 1994 World Series, it seems plausible that by 2012, there will be football-obsessed individuals who only carry a vague recollection of the labor turmoil the NFL faced in the Spring of 2011.  You know when you’re a kid and they take you to the natural history museum, and they show you that giant timeline on the wall of all living creatures, and the space that humans have occupied takes up a section the size of your fingernail?  If an agreement is reached in the next few weeks, that’s all this lockout will be.  A blip on the radar, or, more appropriately, a fart in the wind.

If a deal is reached as quickly as PFT speculates, it probably means that an 18-game schedule was not conceded by the players.  That is the one factor that, for me, would truly change the landscape of the NFL.  Suddenly, rushing for 2,000 yards means less, player durability becomes and even greater commodity, and a bevy of other unforeseen issues makes the New NFL truly different than the one we know.

However, if the deal is struck and the concessions are largely financial, be they transparency on the part of the clubs, and/or a reduced rookie wage scale and limits on contract length and guaranteed money, the NFL will look in August 2011 largely the same as it did in January.  Similarly, health benefits for retired players, a hot-button issue for the players’ leadership, wouldn’t change much about how we, the fans, experience the 2011 NFL season.

Collective bargaining and labor agreements in pro sports are something we only talk about when they come up for negotiation.  As fans, as long as the games are able to be played, we largely do not take notice of the perceived injustices in the current system unless they are thrown on the railroad tracks leading to a new season.  Once these obstacles are lifted, why should we remember them if they didn’t take away any of our precious football?

Certainly, those with an interest in this type of thing are going to point back to this agreement at some point during its duration and single out where the players or owners budged in the others’ favor.  Certainly, and especially if there is more stringent regulation on rookie wages, the NFL draft analysts will have plenty to say about this agreement come next April.

But in the meantime, we are left with no football during a time when there wouldn’t have been football anyway.  At a certain point, you have to look at this situation and realize that the only casualty so far has been Kevin Kolb getting a better job.  Obviously, the longer things drag out, the list will begin to pile up, but right now, the lasting effects of this lockout have been largely insulated from the fans.  This is akin to a parent sending a child to their room for punishment when the kid has an Xbox and an LCD TV in their room.  Sure, in theory we’re being punished, but we were going to be sweating and being angry at LeBron James this summer anyway.

Again, this is all if a deal is reached before the middle of July.  If things creep into OTA and training camp territory, the “fart in the wind” nature of this lockout becomes moot.  At that point, we’re on the clock, and the dollars and football-hours will start circling the drain.  I’m hopefully a deal will be done and this will all seem like a strange nightmare that you wake up from and check to make sure you’re still in one piece.  I hope that in five years I turn to someone and say “remember when there almost wasn’t a 2011 NFL season?” and they look at me, puzzled.

I hope, as all fans do, that pro football has only wasted its own time, and not the ours.


Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore, works for a sports-oriented non-profit, and writes “The Win Column” for BaltimoreSportsReport.  He is currently working on a novel about college football.  Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore.