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NFL: Labor pains getting closer together

If my fairly extensive experience covering the baseball labor wars of the past three decades allow me any instinct about the NFL dispute at all, let me give you football fans a piece of advice. The guys and gals from ESPN, Fox Sports, NFL.com and all the other print, television and internet reporters are working very hard to give you a feel for what's going on at the super-secret negotiating site outside Washington, D.C., but they are filtering countless small fragments of information that may or may not fit together to give a true sense of where the negotiations stand.

One day, you're hearing that there appears to be some kind of progress. The next, you're reading -- as in the story you can jump to right here -- that the talks "almost blew up."

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Here's what everybody knows. The soft deadline for starting the season on time is about Aug. 10, so it seems unlikely that either side is going to make any dramatic concessions on June 15. Maybe the NFL players union and the owners are more reasonable than the people who blew up the 1994 baseball postseason (I certainly hope so), but even the unnamed sources who are expressing optimism are saying that they wouldn't expect an agreement for another month.

In the meantime, I'll bet you my Orioles playoff tickets that there will be at least a couple of occasions where news outlets jump the gun with a piece of information that seems to indicate an agreement is at hand, so don't believe everything you read.

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