CHICAGO -- One day of owners' meetings could turn into two. Whether that's a sign of progress toward the end of the lockout and labor peace is debatable.
NFL owners will gather today, and perhaps into Wednesday, to discuss the status of negotiations with the players for a new collective bargaining agreement. This is the first meeting called by the league strictly for labor matters, and the 32 team owners and representatives who will be on hand were advised last week to prepare to stay an extra day.
That's how complex -- and perhaps contentious -- some of the issues are.
In the last three weeks, groups led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith have made enough progress toward a CBA that it sparked optimism training camps could open on time late next month.
But no one is saying a deal is imminent, and several owners are known to have strong questions about proposals being discussed with the players.
Each side is eager to get something done before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis rules on the league's request to permanently block an injunction that originally lifted the lockout. That injunction had been on hold while the three-man appeals panel considers the case, but one of the judges warned the owners and players they both wouldn't like the decision.
Fearful of a ruling in which both sides lose -- for example, the lockout could be allowed to continue, but only until it reaches six months, which would be four days after the regular season opens -- Goodell, lead negotiator Jeff Pash and a handful of owners have met with Smith and a group of players over the past three weeks. Out of those talks has come word of movement and an atmosphere of cooperation, a far cry from the rhetoric and court actions of the previous months.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has said a deal needs to be in place by July 4 in order to have a normal training camp and preseason. The Minnesota Vikings announced they could wait until July 18 to determine if they will hold any of their training camp in Mankato, Minn., as they usually do, but that certainly is cutting things close.
No talks with the players are scheduled until after the Chicago owners' meeting. Instead, the owners will be briefed on recent negotiations, including such topics as prospective salary caps; a rookie wage scale; free agency requirements; health benefits; and, most significantly, how much revenue from the $9.3 billion business they are willing to share with the players.
Of chief concern on the owners' side could be keeping a united front if some teams, particularly the lower-revenue or small-market franchises, are not satisfied with the numbers presented in Chicago.
The first preseason game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is scheduled for Aug. 7. That makes these meetings, over 24 hours or more, critical in avoiding the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.