The NFL and players wrapped up another two-day round of talks on Maryland's Eastern Shore on Wednesday, with more talks expected in the near future.
This is the third in a series of clandestine sessions that started with a three-day meeting two weeks ago in suburban Chicago, and continued with a two-day meeting on Long Island, N.Y. last week. According to sources, the talks remain productive and are moving forward, though a resolution to the three-month-old lockout is not on the immediate horizon.
Both sides have evaluated and strongly considered the concessions and compromises that could ultimately lead to the problem being solved, though, and sources indicated an agreement could come within a month.
The sides released a joint statement Wednesday reiterating their vow of silence to the media.
âDiscussions between NFL owners and players under the auspices of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan took place again this week and will continue. At the request of Judge Boylan, both sides have agreed to maintain the confidentiality of the substance of the talks.â
Next on the calendar is a scheduled one-day owners meeting near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. That one is set for Tuesday, June 21, and league officials were told this week to be prepared for the meeting to spill into the evening or even Wednesday.
The NFL and players left Maryland with plenty to think about, and potential progress ahead. Things are expected to be quiet over the coming days, with movement likely on hold until next weekâs owners meeting gets underway.
"Probably a sense of urgency with the season just around the corner," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday. "The general understanding from everybody is that if we don't have something done by July it would be hard to start on time."
The league estimates that the cancellation of the preseason could cost it as much as $1 billion. Whether or not that figure is accurate, both parties recognize that the major economic losses that would be incurred by this dispute dragging through the summer would make negotiations exponentially tougher.
"Secret" meetings, such as the ones that took place in Chicago and Long Island, have been critical in past NFL negotiations, dating to the 1980s.
"I know that we've been talking pretty extensively over the last few weeks," Brees added. "It seems like things are moving in the right direction, which is very positive. It's what we always hoped for as players because obviously we're getting to crunch time here."
Movement toward an agreement also might be in both sides' best interest after a federal appeals court judge warned the owners and players they might not like the upcoming decisions in legal actions sparked by the lockout. Indeed, the court could delay any rulings if a new CBA appears to be near.
Although no deadlines have been set for the opening of training camps, the 32 teams soon must decide whether to delay them, particularly those clubs that stage a portion of camp out of town. Settling before July 4 almost certainly would provide for full training camps at previously planned locations, although the Minnesota Vikings have said they could delay until July 18 an announcement on whether they will train at their usual site in Mankato.
First would come a free agency period, including the signing of undrafted rookies, and probably minicamps, which already have been canceled by the lockout that began March 12.
The lockout also has cost the league and some teams advertising and sponsorship money, and some players have not collected workout bonuses. At least seven teams have instituted pay cuts or furloughs of employees who are not players.
The Maryland talks were held at an undisclosed location, with larger groups than had been part of the first two waves of meetings. The legal teams for the sides -- NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman, and NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and Jim Quinn -- were a part of these sessions.
Also, there was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Giants owner John Mara, Chargers owner Dean Spanos, and active players Domonique Foxworth, Tony Richardson, Jeff Saturday and Brian Waters. All but Waters have taken part in these sessions over the last two weeks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.