The owners and players broke off talks on Friday afternoon without the agreement in principle to end the lockout that many were hoping for, but all signs point to more progress being made, and all indications have a deal being put in place in time for a full preseason. The joint statement released right after the talks concluded:
The discussions this week have been productive, and progress has been made on a wide range of issues. Our legal and financial teams will continue to work through the weekend. We will continue to respect the confidentiality orders of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, and will refrain from commenting on specific issues or aspects of the negotiations. We will provide additional information as developments in this process continue.
On Friday, with the major part of the rookie wage scale settled and the broad parameters of the new CBA's structure in place, attention turned to ancillary issues — retired player benefits, the NFL's request for the ability to match the offers made by other teams to their free agents, and player health and safety.
Negotiating teams grew and changed for the third straight day, as nine members of the owners' labor committee were on hand — only Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen was not in attendance from that side. On the players' side, Houston Texans right tackle Eric Winston joined the talks.
The right of first refusal issue, in which anywhere from one to three free agent players on each team would essentially be restricted free agents tied to potential matching offers from their most recent teams, continues to be a point of contention. Players aren't eager to give up their free agent rights under the reversion to the rule that would have all players with four accrued seasons able to fully test the market. In the uncapped 2010 season, a six-year window kept most players with their current teams.
Reports indicate that not only will both legal teams work through the weekend, but that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith will either meet or talk during the weekend. Tuesday is the day for all involved to meet with Boylan again, and the goal is for that agreement in principle to be in place in time for ratification at the next owners meetings in Atlanta on Thursday.
There are hurdles still in place, but the two sides were able to get down to the fine details of rookie compensation. Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports that the fifth-year option for rookie contracts will pay players selected with the first 10 picks the average of the salary of the top 10 players at their positions. Picks 11 through 32 would receive the average of salaries 3 through 25 at their positions, and all amounts would be taken from the third year of rookie contracts. In effect, the option year would be a transition tag from a financial perspective.
Breaking news may be hard to come by over the weekend given the informal nature of negotiations and the respect both sides are giving to the confidentiality agreement, but we'll continue to post news as we receive it. The most important thing to remember right now is that, barring an enormous reversal of fortune, there's almost no way the remaining issues would upend an settlement fairly soon — right now, it's just a matter of time.
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