The NFL and NFL Players Association have been in round-the-clock negotiations since Saturday as they try to hammer out the remaining pieces of the collective bargaining agreement in advance of Thursday's scheduled start of the 2011 league year.
The parties debated the topics of drug testing, benefits and the player-conduct policy disciplinary process late into the night Wednesday before calling it quits with just a few points to finish off. They'll be back at it early Thursday, and the expectation is that the sides will get it done in time for players to vote on the deal at the various training camps. A majority vote is needed among all the league's players for the deal to go through.
The league year is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, the time at which players who signed new contracts will be allowed to practice for the first time if the players approve the CBA.
Several teams have moved their practice times until after 4 p.m. ET so newly signed players can participate.
Among the players' concerns in the CBA is how human growth hormone testing would be implemented, but NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora reported Thursday that there would be no HGH testing in the final CBA, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Sources also revealed to La Canfora that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would retain his power over off-field discipline but that some changes would be made to how he handles disciplines for on-field issues.
New York Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie calls Thursday "a soft deadline" but said it's "looking very optimistic" that the CBA will be signed on time. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark wasn't so sure, saying NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's power over player discipline is "a deal-breaker for us in this situation."
But following the 4½-month lockout, all 32 teams are counting on having those players with new contracts at practice Thursday. Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he doesn't "even want to entertain the thought" of a delay.
"The first thing that's going to happen is I'm going to jump out of a building somewhere," Thompson jokingly said.
As it is, according to Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, it will be difficult to get any of the players still waiting on the sideline for the start of the league season onto the field for the first weekend of preseason games.
"You kind of have to go with what you have now," he said. "You run the risk of injury a little bit because you're down on bodies."
The Associated Press and NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.