Noting that "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 NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the next couple of days, possibly in person, 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 any 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 Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of six members of the owners' labor committee participating Friday.
But people familiar with the discussions said 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 the condition of anonymity because the negotiations aimed at breaking the impasse are supposed to be confidential.
One person also said that owners first learned Thursday that 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 old collective bargaining agreement expired. Now the preseason is just a few weeks away.
The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is scheduled for Aug. 7 between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who 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."