Negotiations completed for the day and likely the week, NFL owners are setting sights on their upcoming meeting in Chicago. Many players are looking beyond then — with optimism — toward getting back to work.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners completed two days of talks Wednesday with NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith and a group of players in Maryland. A person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press that the two sides have been making progress at several such meetings in the last three weeks.
The person, who spoke anonymously because details of the discussions aren't supposed to be made public, also said a new collective bargaining agreement is not imminent.
Nonetheless, several players expressed confidence that a deal will get done soon and training camps will open on time late in July.
"I know that we've been talking pretty extensively over the last few weeks," said New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of 10 players whose names are on an antitrust lawsuit against the league. "It seems like things are moving in the right direction, which is very positive. It's what we always hoped for as players because obviously we're getting to crunch time here."
Close enough to it.
Although no deadlines have been set for the opening of camps, the 32 teams soon must decide whether to delay them, particularly those clubs that stage a portion of camp out of town. Settling early in July almost certainly would provide for full training camps at previously planned locations, although the Minnesota Vikings have said they could delay until July 18 an announcement on whether they will train at their usual site in Mankato.
"I think everyone kind of has that feeling, that this thing's starting to end," said Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth, the team's player representative. "I feel like that's the attitude that everybody has, and you can see everybody preparing that way.
"When you look at the timeline for both sides, it starts to get real serious around this time."
The lockout is in its fourth month. During that time, there have been mediation sessions, court actions in Minnesota and Missouri, and clandestine meetings between Goodell and Smith, a handful of owners and players. Some of those talks have included lawyers on both sides, some haven't.
Such sessions have been critical in past NFL negotiations, dating to the 1980s.
Brees said to be wary of reports that specific portions of a framework for a new CBA are completed.
"Little steps is good. ... I think the gap is being narrowed in a lot of different areas," he said. "It's hard to give any kind of prediction at this point, so any percentages that are thrown out there by unknown sources is something that, you can't necessarily believe everything you hear. But there is progress and that's a good thing."
Movement toward an agreement is in both sides' best interest after a federal appeals court judge warned the owners and players they might not like the upcoming decisions in legal actions sparked by the lockout. Indeed, the court could delay any rulings if a new CBA appears to be near.
If a deal were struck, a free agency period would follow soon after, along with the signing of undrafted rookies. Teams would hold minicamps, which have been put off by the lockout that began March 12.
The labor impasse also has cost the league and some teams advertising and sponsorship money, and some players have not collected workout bonuses. At least seven teams have instituted pay cuts or furloughs of employees who are not players.
The economic pain may not be over. The dealmaking could all come crashing down if one side decides compromise is not in its interest.
"Much can still go wrong — every negotiating session is unique to itself," said Don Yee, who represents Tom Brady and is an adjunct law professor at USC. "Just because one day was good doesn't mean the next day will be, too."
That the lockout has lasted this long is frustrating to at least one player.
"In all honesty, being a professional now in an industry that's as big as the NFL is, it's kind of embarrassing that we're even in a lockout," said Bengals running back Cedric Benson, who will be a free agent once a new CBA is in place. "And having to go through these things and having to come to (the University of Cincinnati) campus and work out and not having a trainer. It's slightly embarrassing, but it is what it is and I have no control over those type of things.
"But it is comforting to hear those guys coming up with a solution."
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this story.