NEW YORK – Don't break out the tailgate gear just yet. An end to the NFL lockout might not be imminent.
It does appears much closer than at any point in the last three months, though.
Recent progress in labor talks between the league and players has sparked a new sense of optimism, and team owners have been told to be ready to extend their one-day meetings in Chicago next week.
The two sides were making progress in labor negotiations being held Tuesday at an undisclosed location in Maryland. Those talks will go through at least Wednesday and quite possibly to the end of the week.
A person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press that the owners and players are "headed in the right direction" and that lawyers "are back in the room" after being excluded from sessions the past two weeks. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the meeting are not being made public.
Two other people familiar with the talks say a framework for a new collective bargaining agreement could be in place before the owners gather next Tuesday.
Previous "secret" meetings have taken place in Chicago and New York. Such sessions have been critical in past NFL negotiations, dating back to the 1980s. And the presence of lawyers at Tuesday's talks could indicate the side are hashing out details of a potential agreement.
Still, it would be premature to predict that lockout is about to end, the people familiar with the talks told the AP. Yet the atmosphere of negotiations has been more positive than it was previously, creating "a sense of movement," they said.
That movement toward an agreement might be 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.
On hand at the meetings were NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith; several owners, including the Giants' John Mara and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones; and a large group of players that includes NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Tony Richardson and Domonique Foxworth.
While no deadlines have been set for the opening of training camps, the 32 teams soon will need to decide whether to delay them, particularly those clubs that stage a portion of camp out of town. The lockout, which began March 12, 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 paycuts or furloughs of employees who are not players.