I'm not quite ready to say that I was wrong, but with any luck I will soon.
Mike Freeman of CBS Sports reports that the entire tone of the negotiations has changed. Whatever rancor and trust was missing back in March has been reestablished (at least for now).
What flipped the switch? I certainly have no idea. Perhaps it was as simple as the NFL finally being willing to bring the heavy hitters to the table. More than the insults the owners had tossed at the players, what truly upset the NFLPA was the lack of facetime with people who could actually make a decision. Players felt jerked around during the mediated sessions in early March. Bargaining would last for about an hour or so a day, suddenly be broken off and then not resume. The players came with their decision makers and were met by a bevy of underlings and middlemen.
Ever since the 'secret' meetings began a few weeks ago, the top owners have been involved. As for what brought them to the table, I can't imagine. Perhaps their stomach for the fight ran out. Maybe it was the slowing creeping realization that the players were not going to cave without doing massive damage to the game. Maybe it was internal polling data that showed the fans were far more upset than they realized. Maybe the players caved and begged them all back to the table.
For now, we don't know what happened, and that's a good thing. Real optimism has replaced blind hope, and it seems like everyone who said, "There's no way these people are so stupid as to actually miss games" may well have had a point after all.
I've been as pessimistic as anyone, and if you had asked me three weeks ago what the odds were that I'd be writing a piece like this, I'd have called you a Pollyanna.
The deal isn't in the can yet, so I'll save any crow eating until the chains are off the doors, but for now it certainly looks like there will be a full 2011 season.