WASHINGTON – Cautioning not to assume the lockout will be over by the weekend, NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae said his group is "not tied" to a deadline for getting a deal done in the next 24 hours.
"We want to go back to work," Mawae said Wednesday outside NFLPA headquarters, "but we will not agree to a deal unless it's the best deal for the players."
If the four-month lockout -- the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 -- is going to end in time to keep the preseason completely intact, the players and owners almost certainly must ratify the deal by Thursday. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open the preseason Aug. 7 in the Hall of Fame game.
The NFLPA's executive committee and representatives of all 32 teams were meeting in Washington, prepared to review and vote on a full agreement -- if they received it later Wednesday. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and nine of the 10 members of the owners' labor committee arrived at a hotel near the Atlanta airport on Wednesday, so they could decide whether to recommend a finalized proposal to all club owners, who are due to be there Thursday
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is on the labor committee, wasn't expected to participate because his wife died Wednesday, at age 68, after a battle with cancer.
If owners do vote Thursday, at least 24 would need to OK the deal. If it's passed by both sides, team executives would be schooled later that day and Friday in Atlanta in the guidelines and how to apply them; topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and new free agency rules.
"Our goal today is to see what is on the table and discuss outlying issues," Mawae said. "The players are not tied to a July 21 timeline. Our timeline is that which gives us the best deal for the players -- today, tomorrow or whatever it might be."
Two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that players and owners were expected to review a potential agreement by midday Wednesday. Another person, however, said there still were issues to be resolved.
All three people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the process was supposed to remain confidential.
The NFLPA's executive committee reviewed only portions of a potential agreement Tuesday, with not enough information to warrant a vote yet.
There still were unresolved issues Tuesday, including what it would take to get the 10 plaintiffs -- including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins -- to sign off on a settlement to their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL that is pending in federal court in Minnesota.
Late Tuesday, Jackson tweeted: "I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!"
"Obviously, there's the litigation with the named plaintiffs, and I am not familiar with the whole legal part of it. ... But at the end of the day," Mawae said, "the deal we are working on is the deal that's best for all the players in the NFL, and not just four guys."
Another pending dispute has been the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in "lockout insurance."
The country's most popular professional sports league has been in limbo since the old collective bargaining agreement expired March 11. The lockout began hours later. The regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are to host the New Orleans Saints.