MINNEAPOLIS -- A day after NFL owners and players negotiated for nearly 16 hours, the two sides opted for a much briefer gathering Friday, with plans to reconvene next week.
Sources told NFL Network that players and owners made major strides on the revenue split Thursday night and Friday morning, to the point where if the rest can be worked out, they could be close to reaching a financial model.
Both parties held conference calls Friday morning with their constituencies. The sessions will resume with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and their staffs meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in New York. Players and owners will then join the meetings Thursday and Friday.
"We'll continue to meet next week, and the goal is to get a deal done," Smith said as he exited Friday.
The two sides will build off an intriguing week of talks, which seemed to be in peril at one point Thursday before the parties negotiated for nearly nine more hours.
In the end, the owners and players -- who returned to the talks after their legal teams negotiated through the first three days this week -- logged nearly 16 hours before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, working into the wee hours. NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman were the last participants to leave the building at just before 1 a.m. local time on Friday morning.
The time spent into night was a sign of the seriousness of the juncture at which the parties have arrived during this fifth round of clandestine talks. At 4 p.m., the NFLPA held a conference call for all executive committee members and player representatives, painting a grim picture of where talks stood after seven hours negotiating with the league.
The largest issue was the revenue split and the willingness to commit to a true "all revenue" model. The subject caused a snag in negotiations between the legal teams Monday and arose again Thursday. But even after the conference call, which set off widespread pessimism following Wednesday's optimism, the parties were able to talk deep into the night.
Among the owners who joined Goodell in the talks Thursday were Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, John Mara of the New York Giants, and Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs. Kraft and Mara have been the two constants for the owners in these meetings.
Smith's team included outside counsel Jim Quinn, general counsel Richard Berthelsen, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, Chiefs guard Brian Waters, and former Arizona Cardinals special-teams ace Sean Morey. Foxworth, like Kraft and Mara, has been a constant presence at these meetings, the first of which was held May 31 and all of which have been held before Boylan.
The parties have spent the past four weeks largely discussing the revenue split. It's not just the current revenue but also how to account for the league's future growth -- particularly when the 2014 television deals are done -- in the players' take. The idea of an "all revenue" model, which would eliminate cost credits to the owners and limit revenue projections, has bridged some differences, but the issue hasn't been settled.
The revenue split remains an explosive topic, despite some recent momentum, and as much as they've tried, the parties just haven't been able to solve it. If anything can jeopardize these talks, it's that issue. Conversely, if it's solved, the rest could fall into place.
Nonetheless, the legal teams have fought through that and spent time trading proposals, with an eye on pushing the process toward a deal and an end to a league-imposed lockout that's in its fourth month.
Part of the work for each party has been managing expectations that a resolution is on the horizon. The NFLPA has warned some players that the possibility of missing games remains real.
And time is running short as the parties look to preserve the preseason in its traditional form. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, this year's Hall of Fame Game participants, are scheduled to open training camp in just three weeks.
Last Thursday, the parties broached the rookie salary system for the first time since starting the secret sessions, but it proved to be a difficult area to navigate. The numbers aren't the only issue. Finding a way to replace the market effect those contracts have on veterans as well as getting high draft picks to free agency quicker are among the players' concerns. As it stands, six-year contracts are allowed for high first-round picks making big money.
Goodell and Smith, who arrived in Minneapolis on Monday, took a break from talks Tuesday night to fly together to Sarasota, Fla., and speak to assembled players at the NFLPA's rookie symposium the next morning. They returned to Minneapolis on the same plane.
Goodell was invited to the symposium by Smith, who said he was "thrilled" the commissioner accepted and participated. The men stood side by side after the event Wednesday morning and vowed to continue working on a deal.