When a select committee of NFL owners and players began meeting two weeks ago for secret talks without lawyers in the room, it was considered a good sign. Now that they apparently have brought those lawyers back into the fold, it's cause for even more optimism that the 3-month-old lockout could be close to a settled end.
With the two sides gathering outside Washington Tuesday and expected to do so again Wednesday, they appear to be getting close enough to an agreement to bring the attorneys in to start working on language and details. Two people familiar with the talks told The Associated Press that a framework for a new collective-bargaining agreement could be in place before the owners' meetings Tuesday in Chicago.
As it is, the league has told the owners to clear their schedule and be available not only Tuesday for the meeting but also for the possibility of meetings Tuesday night and even into next Wednesday. Although it is not clear they are opening time for a possible vote on a proposal, it's another sign of promise that the 91-day lockout could be gasping its final breaths.
People familiar with the talks told The AP it would be premature to predict an imminent end to the lockout, but the atmosphere of negotiations has been more positive than it was previously, creating "a sense of movement.''
"Just like I don't predict about how federal judges will rule on cases, I don't predict when a resolution to the lockout will come," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah wrote on Twitter. "We're focusing all our efforts on a long-term settlement, agreement and resolution. That's what we can control."
The previous two two-day negotiating sessions occurred in Chicago and in the New York area, including a stop on Long Island. It is believed that the same five owners who represented the league in those talks -- including John Mara of the Giants -- were there Tuesday.
To get in free agency and the start of training camps in late July, it would seem that a deal would have to be completed shortly. The sides also are waiting for a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on the legality of the lockout.
The two sides are not due in court again until Aug. 29 in front of Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minneapolis, on a hearing for the league's motion to dismiss the players' antitrust lawsuit.