For nearly two months, several high-level league executives pointed to July 15 as the day when the NFL needed to reach a collective bargaining agreement.
As the hours counted down to that date on Thursday, the momentum picked up.
Two sources from the players' side indicated late Thursday that the components to a deal could be done as early as Friday after the owners and players made significant strides on several issues. It had been previously reported by multiple outlets that the sides had made significant progress on finalizing the rookie salary scale system, which will go into effect with this year's draft class. Both sides also came to an agreement on other revenue-sharing issues.
Once the two sides have the framework in place, the deal must still be approved by plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL antitrust suit and voted on by owners. The owners are currently scheduled to meet in Atlanta on July 21.
With that, hope went from tepid to extremely warm.
"I know everybody is tired of hearing the word 'close.' I know I am," one of the aforementioned sources said. "But I think this is really, truly right there, ready to be done unless somebody comes in and really screws things up. We all have some things we're not happy with, but it's small stuff … the big picture, that's exactly right. We all see that the big picture is in pretty good shape."
While both sources declined to get into specifics, they indicated that the players' side felt satisfied with the overall compensation for rookies, an issue that was never as far apart as had been indicated at times.
"The owners understood that they couldn't have it both ways," the previously quoted source said. "They couldn't have a big, huge drop in the guaranteed money and have five-year deals, too. You can have an option for a fifth year, but you have to pay for it. You have to be fair to guys who are good players and prove it for three or four years. Everybody gets that, whether you're a veteran player, a coach, an owner or a fan."
After the final bridges were gapped on the rookie pay scale, the other issues seemed to follow suit. Owners gave in on the desire for some money off the top while players gave in on paying the burden for benefits on retired players out of their share. While there are still some health and safety issues that will have to be finalized, none of those issues figure to hold up the momentum.
"What you have left are not big money issues, they're fairness issues. It shouldn't be that hard," the aforementioned quoted source said.