THE FEDERAL mediator has sent the NFL owners and players home until Tuesday. After 7 days of negotiations - noteworthy, mediator George H. Cohen said, for the mutual respect shown by the parties - there was some progress on some stuff "but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues that separate the parties."

That is to say, there is now pretty much no way this thing can be settled in time for the March 3 deadline.

That is to say, the NFL either will extend the deadline or we all can strap in for a spirited game of Take No Prisoners.

And if that happens - if the offseason descends into a chaotic maelstrom, and if the start of the 2011 season is hurried or delayed - the team with the best-organized front office and coaching staff could very well be the big winner.

Which means this: If you are an Eagles fan, you might just want to root for at least a little bit of labor chaos - because planning and anticipating is the absolute strength of club president Joe Banner and coach Andy Reid.

At the risk of an e-mail avalanche, you have to give Banner and Reid that much. Years ago, Banner was the guy who figured out the key loophole in the NFL salary cap before anyone else did, giving the Eagles a lot of extra maneuverability and cap space over the years. And as for Reid, if he isn't always at his best on Sunday with the timeouts and the whatnot, he is really good on Wednesday. His teams are well-prepared and play hard a very high percentage of the time.

Given that, some chaos might give the Eagles an edge. Given that, and given the amount of cap space they anticipate having - provided there is a cap, that is - the Eagles can put themselves in a position to take advantage of what could end up being a quick-and-dirty free-agency period involving hundreds of players.

Banner said the other day that the team has begun the process of gaming out every scenario it can imagine. The Eagles have one plan if it somehow turns out to be a normal offseason. They have another plan if the free-agency period ends up being after the April draft rather than the reverse, which is the norm. They have another plan if there is no collective bargaining settlement until the middle of the summer. They likely have another plan if the settlement is even later.

They have a plan in which only 4-year players become free agents under the new rules, another plan for 4-year and 5-year players, and every variation surrounding those kinds of numbers. They have the makings of a free-agency strategy if there is time for only a quick, careening trip through the bazaar of available players, or if there is a more extended period for potential signings.

Granted, other teams are likely doing the same thing (if they're smart). But if history tells you anything, it is that Banner and the front office will likely have anticipated well, and that Reid will have a good plan for training camp and beyond, however long or short training camp ends up being.

Again: This is the kind of thing the Eagles do well, and this has a chance to be the kind of season where these skills become paramount. At least, that is what NFL history suggests.

Granted, the sample size is pretty limited. In 1982, the NFL players went on strike and the season was shortened to nine games. In 1987, the players struck, the owners used scabs for three games that counted in the standings, and a total of 15 games were played.

Both times, the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl.

Joe Gibbs was the head coach. There isn't much more that needs to be said there, except that Gibbs was all about precision and organization and not so much about the rah-rah.

Bobby Beathard was the general manager, one of the greats of that era. Among his front-office assistants was Charley Casserly, another name you might have heard.

There was a veteran and distinguished coaching staff in place, including future NFL head coaches Dan Henning, Richie Petitbon and Joe Bugel.

Then there was Jack Kent Cooke, the free-spending owner. Back in the day, Cooke was willing to spend so much on players that it seemed as if the Redskins kept more guys stashed on injured reserve than anyone - so many that the NFL ended up having to change the rules.

Maybe it was a coincidence - in the midst of both of those labor messes, with that leadership collection in place - that the Redskins were able to distinguish themselves and win the Super Bowl. But it did happen twice.

So it is worth considering that the Eagles really are good at planning, and that they have added experienced voices to the coaching staff in the last few weeks, and that they do anticipate having more cap space (and, therefore, more of an ability to spend) than most teams.

Chaos really could be their friend. *

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