With deadlines approaching and momentum building as the NFL and players work towards ending the three-month-old lockout, owners have gotten some resistance from within their ranks, according to sources.
The small resisting group is worried about the possibility that the national economy could tank again, and is looking for protection that it didn't have in the collective bargaining agreement established in 2006. Based on economic indicators through their other businesses, some owners have grown increasingly nervous, and the deterioration in the stock market and growing unemployment rate have compounded that.
The hope is that this is part of the normal ebb and flow of negotiations, and that the parties are delving deeper into major issues than they have in the two-plus years since the owners opted out of the 2006 CBA. But in any case, it's a problem that has to be managed.
The owners have one-day internal meetings scheduled monthly until the labor situation is resolved, and the next one commences Tuesday in Chicago. The group was told this week to be prepared to stay overnight in the case the meetings spill into Wednesday.
Whereas previous meetings during the lockout in New Orleans and Indianapolis were regularly scheduled and were, naturally, heavy on labor talk, the Chicago meeting is the first one that is labor specific.
The "rift" among owners wasnât wholly unexpected, or even new, and the 10 members of the labor committee have handled the majority of the talks. Ultimately, though, they canât carry approval of a new CBA on their own -- 24 votes among the larger group of 32 is necessary for a deal to be ratified.
The latest development comes at a time when it appears a lot of momentum towards a resolution is taking place.
The NFL and players concluded another two-day round of talks on Maryland's Eastern Shore on Wednesday, 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.
Sources say the talks remain productive and are moving forward, though a resolution to the lockout is not on the immediate horizon.
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," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday. "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 that neither side would 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.