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NFL owners, players need agreement

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Owners and players in the National Football League seem determined to kill the golden goose.

Already there's not only talk of labor unrest and a lockout for the 2011 season, most people believe it's almost sure to happen.

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There are legitimate issues on the table.

The owners want 18 regular season games instead of the fans. However, they don't want to pay the players for them. Where do fans come down on the issue? Certainly most fans would say they want 18 regular season games, and would be fine with two preseason games.

Preseason -- or more accurately, exhibition season -- isn't just a chance for Brett Favre to play four plays and then stand on the sidelines for the rest of the game with a baseball cap on. Coaches and general managers have a very short window to evaluate the talent on their teams, some of whom are rookies who they've just recently met. Before the season starts, tough decisions need to be made to pare down the rosters, and exhibition games offer a rare opportunity to see their players at full speed with full contact. We can't do away with it entirely.

Perhaps one preseason game with none of the starters in, and one with the starters playing one half of football is enough to both evaluate talent and get the starters up to game speed. And yes, the players deserve to be paid for the extra two regular season games, as it's far more likely ticket revenue will rise if the games count toward a team's record.

As far as preparation, the teams that resolve to work on their conditioning and timing on their own will likely be better prepared to start the season than those that show up for camp fat and slow. That seems like a good thing.

There are other nagging issues in the NFL. For instance, former players need better treatment. You can't be a class organization without taking care of the guys who built the organization for you. And rookies don't deserve tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money before they take the field for the first time and we get to see if they're as good as they have been advertised, or they stink. And plenty of them end up stinking. Huge contracts should belong to veterans who demonstrate they deserve them.

Also, the players have a point in that their contracts aren't guaranteed. Unlike, say, the NBA, where players can have a foot ailment and miss years all while collecting a full salary, a player in the NFL with the same injury learns to play through it or they can get cut and have no salary. In a league where players run full speed and crash into each other, they deserve protections. If they're going to sacrifice their bodies and leave the field with broken bones and concussions, they deserve to know they'll be taken care of if it all goes awry.

What's troubling is there is broad agreement among fans about all of these issues. And as the men and women who pay the tickets that pay the salary of the players and the profits of the team, they should be listened to. The images of players picketing over millions or owners locking the doors over billions won't sit well with Americans if the unemployment rate stays around double digits.

If the owners and players think a fight won't hurt them, they should check out the TV ratings for baseball and hockey. No one benefits from a work stoppage.

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