NEW YORK – With yet another deadline approaching, NFL players and owners still are debating drug testing, benefits and the player conduct policy disciplinary process as they work to complete the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL and the players union discussed those issues until early Thursday morning, then agreed to reconvene a few hours later, hoping to finish off the CBA. The league year is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday. That's when players who signed new contracts will be allowed to practice for the first time if the players approve and sign the agreement.
Among the players' concerns is how HGH testing would be implemented, who would oversee it and what would be a fair appeals process. Blood tests are used to look for HGH, while urine tests are used to detect other substances that violate the league's drug policy.
Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated the expectation an agreement would be finalized on time.
"That's certainly our intention," he said Wednesday while visiting the Carolina Panthers. "If we can reach agreement and sign the collective bargaining agreement by (Thursday) morning, we certainly expect for the new league year to start and the players to be out here (Thursday) morning."
That might come a bit later in light of the adjournment.
Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie called Thursday "a soft deadline" but said it's "looking very optimistic" that the CBA will be signed on time.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark wasn't so sure.
"De Smith is still working," Clark said of the NFLPA executive director, "and we're trying to get this figured out. But it's not an absolute that guys will be at practice tomorrow."
Clark added that the disciplinary process "with Roger Goodell having total control over the fine process, that's a deal-breaker for us in this situation."
Pittsburgh has been one of the most fined teams in the league, particularly star linebacker James Harrison. The Steelers have been vocal about what they perceive as unfair treatment by the NFL.
"We feel like someone else should be on there; there should be some ... type of way — actually someone who's not on the NFL payroll," Clark said. "A big issue, for us, especially, as a team, is Roger Goodell ... being judge, jury and appeals system."
Following the 4½-month lockout, all 32 teams are counting on having those players with new contracts at practice on Thursday, with a few clubs moving back the starting time of their workouts. Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he doesn't "even want to entertain the thought" of a delay.
"The first thing that's going to happen is I'm going to jump out of a building somewhere," Thompson joked.
Dallas player rep Jason Witten wasn't surprised that another deadline was being faced.
"We knew that was going to take a little bit of time (with) some of those issues," Witten said. "But, gosh, a lot of work's gone into it to get to this point; hate to see it slip."
As it is, according to Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, it will be difficult to get any of the players still in waiting onto the field for the first weekend of exhibition games.
"You kind of have to go with what you have now," he said. "You run the risk of injury a little bit because you're down on bodies."
One of those bodies most eager to get back on the field is Reggie Bush, who was traded to Miami by New Orleans last week.
"Honestly, I hope it happens tomorrow," Bush said. "There are a lot of guys in the league right now who need to get to work."
AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and Sports Writers Steven Wine in Miami, Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Stephen Hawkins in San Antonio, and Pete Iacobelli in Spartanburg, S.C., and freelance writers Chris Adamski in Pittsburgh and Ernie Palladino in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this story.