Browns tight end Benjamin Watson is optimistic that NFL players and owners are on the brink of finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the league's four-month-old lockout.
Watson, one of the Browns' union representatives, discussed his hope for labor peace after about 200 children participated in his football clinic this morning at Memorial Junior High School in South Euclid.
Here is a transcript of the question-and-answer session I had with Watson:
Q: Were you in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, when player reps from all 32 teams met to review the proposed CBA?
"No, I wasn't. I'm an alternate rep. So there was just one guy from every team. It was (offensive lineman Tony) Pashos. And (Browns linebacker) Scott (Fujita) is on the (NFL Players Association's) executive committee."
Q: The players' vote on a new CBA was held up Wednesday. Do you have any idea when the players will vote on a new deal?
A: "I can tell you this: I can tell you that we're very close. A settlement is probably on the horizon. I can't give you an exact time line. But both sides have agreed upon a lot. There's just some stuff here and there."
Q: Which issues are standing in the way of finalizing an agreement?
A: "Well, the more I talk to guys, there's so much to it than just splitting $9 billion. There is so much more to it. It's how to split it, percentages. You've got everything from free agency (rules) to, you know, there's so many facets of a deal. It's not just simply going in there and saying, 'You can take 50 (percent). We'll take 50 (percent).' And I'm even surprised. The more I talk to guys who are closer to the actual negotiations, the more I learn about it."
Q: With anticipation that the owners could ratify a deal today, are you confident that players could do the same to finalize an agreement today?
A: "It's too early to tell. I'm kind of gonna wait and see. Is today the day? Nobody knows for sure. The feeling and the hope is that (the owners) will ratify and then we'll be on the same page and we'll be ready to go shortly in the next few weeks. But I mean you just don't know."
Q: Will there be a huge sigh of relief by everyone involved when the lockout is finally over?
A: "I think it'll be like, 'Aww, man. What are we gonna talk about now?' (laughing) We'll have to find something else to put on the news. But, yeah, it will be (a relief). It'll kind of be weird. We've been away from organized football for six months now, and for most of us, we haven't been away from organized football for that long since before we started playing. Even in high school, you had spring practice. So this has been the longest break that any of us has had, so the first few days when we actually get back to playing, it'll be kind of weird. But I think we'll get acclimated very quickly. This is our job. This is what we do. This is what we want to be doing. Again with the whole lockout and the way it's gone with the litigation, this is just American business. That's all it is, and it'll resolve itself."
Q: Are you hoping that both players and owners will ratify a deal as soon as possible?
A: "Oh, yeah. Definitely. I'm definitely hoping (for) that, so that we can start getting in shape. I mean we're already in shape, but (we need) to start practicing and learning because we have a big learning curve. We've got a lot that we have to overcome just as an offense and even as a defense. We've got a whole new coaching staff, so the sooner we get back to it, the better as far as that goes."
Q: With the Browns switching to a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense under the direction of a new coaching staff, has the team been affected more by the lockout than others?
A: "It's definitely going to be tough. But it's all about being able to execute during the game. I'm confident that no matter how much time we have, we're gonna have enough material down to execute in a game. It just comes down to execution. Once you get out there on the field, it's you against the other team. Everybody is kind of gonna be in the same boat as far as rushing (to figure things out during the preseason). Yes, we have a lot more to learn. But once we get in there, as long as we're concentrating, as long as we're getting it done, we've just gotta do it on Sundays."
Q: Do you think the players-only workouts quarterback Colt McCoy has organized during the lockout will help?
A: "I definitely do. From a physical standpoint, obviously we're not hitting. We're not really going full speed because of the injury liabilities. But the mental part of the game, definitely. When we had the one day (in April) when we weren't locked out, we were able to get some information (from the coaches). We were able to go over that information. It's been huge for us to at least have those stepping stones. So when we do get back, we won't be starting fresh. We'll at least has some of the basics (covered)."
Q: Now that you've seen coach Pat Shurmur's playbook, what are your thoughts about playing in a West Coast offense?
A: "I'm definitely excited. I'm definitely excited to go out there and see how it's gonna jell together. There's so much more that we don't know about it. We've just kind of seen the basics. I've never played in the West Coast offense. For the past seven years, it's kind of been the same thing coming from New England and coming here under (former Browns coach Eric) Mangini and (former Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll). That's the language that I know. That's the offense I know. So for me, it's been learning something totally new, which is fine. It's fun to start new and have something fresh."