ROSEMONT, Ill. – The next time NFL owners meet over labor, there is hope it will be to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with the players.
Don't get carried away thinking a deal is imminent. Optimism is in the air, for sure. That doesn't mean the end of the lockout is at hand.
Owners were briefed Tuesday on discussions for a new CBA that would net the players just under 50 percent of total revenues. Next up: more talks with the players in the Boston area.
Several people with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press that Commissioner Roger Goodell and his labor committee will meet with players association chief DeMaurice Smith on Wednesday and Thursday. The owners spent five hours Tuesday getting updated on various CBA issues. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are supposed to be confidential.
"We're going to meet with them soon and we're eager to accelerate the pace of the negotiations," said Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator.
"We have a lot of work to do and we've got to do it right," Goodell added. "The agreement has to focus on several issues and the issues are complex. It must be done in a way that is fair to the players and a way that is fair to the clubs."
One person told the AP that the players' share would approach the 50 percent the NFLPA has said it has received throughout the last decade. But the expense credits — about $1 billion last year — that the league takes off the top would disappear.
Also, there would no longer be "designated revenues" from which the players would share, the person said. Instead, the players would share from the entire pie, which they project will grow significantly over the course of the new CBA, which is expected to run anywhere from six to 10 years. So if they are taking 48 percent or more of a much higher revenue stream — without the initial NFL deduction for operating expenses — the players still would receive far more money than they got under the previous agreement.
A salary floor keeping teams within 90 percent of the cap also would be included. The players have been concerned that some teams whose revenue streams don't match up with the richer clubs would try to hold down salary spending.
"It was a good day in the sense of we had a full discussion on the issues," Goodell said. "Ownership is united and determined to reach an agreement and have a full 2011 season. The ownership has a better understanding of the framework (of a new CBA)."
Several owners were expected to have objections to some of the proposals. Goodell was asked if there was a consensus among owners, to which he replied that "is a little deceiving because we don't have an agreement" with the players.
"The membership has a strong view of the priorities and what we need to do, and a determination to get there," Goodell said.
Both sides appear eager to find common ground for a new collective bargaining agreement rather than going back into court. A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the league's appeal of a lower-court injunction that originally blocked the lockout. That injunction is on hold, and a ruling could come anytime.
"This is the season to get a deal," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said. "I think the logic that you're pushing on both sides is saying why get a deal Oct. 1, or whenever, when you could have had July 7, or whatever."
The lockout began March 12. Training camps are scheduled to open in late July.
The person with knowledge of the negotiations said the players made economic concessions over the last three weeks of "secret" talks on both revenue percentage and on future stadium credits; many NFL teams have heavy debt for stadium construction.
"The next financial model is going to look more like a division of percentage of total revenues," the person said. "That is the context being discussed. It is a simpler mechanism to understand. You take away the 60 percent of defined gross revenues, take away the upfront expense credits that keep growing and now will be gone, it becomes easier to deal with the economics on a macro level."
Other items, such as a rookie wage scale and health benefits, have been discussed in those owner-player meetings, but won't be settled until the revenue split is determined, the person added.
Goodell said no discussions were held Tuesday on a potential full-season Thursday night TV package that could increase revenues. With record ratings last season, the NFL's value to its broadcast partners never has been higher.
Asked how close an agreement might be, neither Goodell nor Pash would put a timetable on it.
"I have no idea," Pash said. "We have to spend a significant amount of time with the players. There's a lot of work to be done for both parties. I don't think there's any way to say it's close or not close."
AP Sports Writers John Wawrow in Buffalo, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Nancy Armour and Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.