NFL contract in sight … but not done yet


NFL: Friday’s notebook

Howard Fendrich/ Associated Press

Noting “progress has been made,” NFL owners and players wrapped up a round of intensive talks Friday without a full agreement to end the league’s four-month lockout, but determined to keep pushing over the weekend.

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith expects to speak with commissioner Roger Goodell in the next couple days while the two sides’ legal and financial teams continue working.

After about eight hours of negotiations in New York on Friday — tacked onto more than 25 hours across Wednesday and Thursday — the league and players issued a joint statement, saying: “The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues.”

They did not reveal details, citing a gag order imposed by the court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

“I wouldn’t dare speculate on where we are,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of six members of the owners labor committee participating Friday.

But people familiar with the discussions told the Associated Press that Friday’s talks moved beyond economic issues to cover other remaining areas where gaps need to be bridged to finish off a deal. That included player health and safety matters, such as offseason workout rules.

The aim was to build upon the significant steps made Thursday, when the framework for a rookie salary system was established, including that first-round draft picks will sign four-year contracts with a club option for a fifth year.

On another financial matter, the per-team cap figure for 2011 will be in the range of $120 million in salaries plus about $20 million or so in benefits, according to people with knowledge of the talks.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations aimed at breaking the impasse are confidential.

One person said owners first learned Thursday the NFLPA set up $200,000 in “lockout insurance” for each player if the 2011 season were lost entirely, a policy that cost at least $10 million and was taken out nearly a year ago.

That policy was first reported by SI.com.

The NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 began in March, when owners locked out players after negotiations broke down and the collective bargaining agreement expired.

Now the preseason is just a few weeks away.

The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is Aug. 7 between the Rams and Bears in Canton. The teams hope to be in training camp by next weekend.

Yet, camps won’t start before a new CBA is in place.

Boylan, who has been on vacation, ordered both sides to meet with him in Minneapolis early next week, and the owners have a special meeting set for next Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal — if one is reached by then.

Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a class-action antitrust lawsuit pending in federal court and the NFLPA’s 32 team representatives.

“We made some progress; we continue to have a lot of work to do,” Smith said as he left Friday’s session at a Manhattan law firm. “I know everybody is frustrated, and they want a definitive answer. I hate to disappoint you; you’re not going to get one right now. We’re going to continue to work, and I think that’s a positive sign.”

Retirees want say

Carl Eller , the Hall of Fame defensive end, is unhappy about how he and his fellow retirees have been treated as owners and current players negotiate a new deal to split more than $9 billion in revenue.

That deal, of course, will include retirement benefits for the former players of this dangerous sport.

Eller and other retirees have sued both the NFL and the NFL Players Association, complaining that they’ve illegally been left out of the latest talks after taking part in court-ordered mediation sessions earlier this year.

As loudly as they’ve raised their concerns, they’re not interested in derailing a deal.

“We’re not looking for a fight. We’re just looking to make things right. If football stops on our account, we don’t want to be left holding the bag. We just want what we’ve earned,” Eller said. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt the game.”

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