I’ve also thought for some time that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell knew it would probably come to this, once the pathway of these negotiations resulted in running afoul of Judge David S. Doty again. And last week, when Doty ruled against the NFL in saying the league didn’t have the right to use a $4 billion pool of TV money to use as lockout insurance if games were not played in 2011, Goodell knew he had to show the financials.

Why? Because if the players decertified their union, and if the owners locked out the players, the likelihood was the next step would have the players going to court to try to get their way. And in court, the league would have to show the kind of detailed financial information that the league has been blocking. So, in some ways, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodell, deep down, wasn’t unhappy with Doty’s ruling. Because it would be a message to the hard-line owners that they were going to have open their books at some point anyway. Why not do it in negotiation instead of litigation?

So let’s try to fathom how this could work this week. First, we won’t hear much about it. I think after word of this leaked out in my column Monday — and, mostly, after the inside detail Jim Trotter had in MMQB about how close the talks came to complete collapse last week — mediator George Cohen likely reminded each side Monday what the definition of a “news blackout” is. So we likely won’t know what’s being discussed.

If the books are opened, the union has to decide if it’s getting enough detail. Are the owners showing the players enough for the NFLPA to fathom whether the Titans made $4 million in profit in 2010 or $44 million? The players will have to know they’re getting a true picture. Then the players will want to examine the figures to know if, in essence, the Seahawks are wasting $20 million a year on employing relatives of the owner. I use both of those things as examples. Neither is true. But the players will want to see how much perceived “waste” is on the owners’ side of things.

The owners would hope, of course, that the players realize owners are legitimately in need of some financial relief, that the $1 billion in additional funds they want exempted from revenue-sharing is legit. I doubt that will happen. But if the NFLPA sees some legitimacy in the owners needing relief, maybe the two sides can agree on, say, $250 million in additional funds per year that would be credited to the owners and not shared. I think the owners are willing to compromise greatly on that issue. Now it’s just a matter of whether they can agree on what’s a sensible number.

But the key is simple: Will the owners open the books, and if they do, will the players trust they’re getting the real-deal information? I think the books will be opened. I hope, for the sake of these negotiations, that the players trust the information they’re seeing. Then, and only then, will we be on the road to an agreement that doesn’t involve going in front of a judge.

Now for your e-mail:

• ONLY IF AN OWNER THINKS IT’S A GOOD WAY TO DO BUSINESS. “Do you think greater financial transparency could be a step toward changing the rule that does not allow NFL teams to ‘go public’ by selling stock? As a Packer fan (and owner), I can’t imagine a better league than one where all the fans really own their teams. Seems to me the NFL is on the brink of collapse but also could be on the brink of salvation.”
— Robert Minahan, Green Bay

I doubt it, Robert. I think the decline of the NFL is a big exaggeration, even if the owners take a beating in these negotiations, or lose in court if it goes that far. I think if the owners feel they can make money by selling a team to the public, one or more of them will urge their fellow owners to pass league rules that allow them to do so.

• THE MARKET FOR MCGAHEE. “Hey, Peter, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, Willis McGahee isn’t expected to take a pay cut after career lows in rushing attempts, yards and TDs. Assuming the Ravens are able to trade him (and obviously assuming the NFLPA and owners come to some agreement this week), what do you think he is worth in return?”
— Steve, Baltimore

Maybe a fifth-round pick. Maybe. He’s going to be 30 this year, he hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since 2007 and he gets hurt. I’d rather use a good draft choice on a running back of the future. Especially in a season with so much uncertainty about how players can be acquired, draft picks are going to be gold. One last point: If you ask me if I’d trade a 2012 fifth-rounder for McGahee when the games actually start and there’s a new CBA, I’d be more inclined to do it.

• OWNERS ARE GREEDY AND FANS NOT SMART FOR SUPPORTING THEM, HE SAYS. “I am disappointed with the lack of personal ownership for the decision that fans make that feed the greed of both the owners and the players. I’m also disappointed by the lopsided support for the players, the Bill Simmons article you linked to being a perfect example.

If people are outraged by PSLs, they shouldn’t buy them. If people are shocked by the cost of “cheap seat” tickets, they should watch from home in 42+ inches of HD greatness (which, in my opinion, is a far superior football experience anyway). And owners, how dare they want to make money for the business they own! Truly shocking! Oh, and by the way, they are the ones who provide the jobs, not just for the athletes, but for their own employees, and all of those in the sports ecosystem who have jobs because of them, including reporters, agents, etc., $9 billion is just the tip of the iceberg.”
— Chris, Ashburn, Va.

You have lots of company.

• MAYBE. BUT HOLMGREN DID SAY HE WASN’T READY TO RETURN. “I’m intrigued on your thoughts on Bill Cowher and the Browns. Most believe that out of respect for the Rooneys, Cowher agreed not to coach in the AFC North when he left. Now, if he did, I don’t know why he would even talk to Holmgren, but I wonder if it’s more a case of the Browns being archrivals of the Steelers than his lack of interest in coaching in general. Have you heard anything about this and/or think there’s any possibility of it being the case?”
— Mark Hagsfeld, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Hey! I almost moved to Cleveland Heights once. Nice place. Regarding your point, you could be right. It could be that Cowher simply didn’t want to coach in the division. All we can go by is what Mike Holmgren said — that Cowher told him he wasn’t ready to return. That isn’t to say he won’t be ready to coach at some point. But this will be his fifth season out of football. Even though he’s still young, Cowher’s reticence to coach up to this point tells me if I were the owner hiring a coach in the future, I’d definitely want to look into Cowher’s eyes and see if he still has the hunger to be a 15-hour-a-day head coach.

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