The NFL lockout reached the 101-day mark Friday, but every indication remains that the league and players have built momentum toward resolving their labor conflict in the coming weeks.
The parties will return to the bargaining table this week for a fifth round of clandestine talks at an undisclosed location. Meanwhile, the NFL Players Association will concurrently stage its replacement for the NFL's canceled rookie symposium -- entitled "The Business of Football: Rookie Edition" -- in Bradenton, Fla.
Time for cautious optimism
This week's talks follow sessions held in suburban Chicago (May 31-June 2), New York's Long Island (June 7-8), Maryland's Eastern Shore (June 14-15) and suburban Boston (June 22-23).
As has been the case throughout the last month, talks between the league and players haven't been limited to face-to-face discussions. And one person involved estimated that at least five hours of work go into each set of talks.
As they departed the latest meeting in Hull, Mass., on Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith stood side-by-side and acknowledged the importance of gathering key people from each side under the same roof.
"Someone asked me if I was optimistic -- I think we're both optimistic when we have the right people in the room," Smith said. "We know we're talking about the right issues, and we're working hard to get it done. It's extremely complicated. It requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people. But we're committed to getting something done. And we're going to keep working at it."
Smith and Goodell have been joined by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, New York Giants owner John Mara, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, as well as U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan (who's overseeing the talks), as constants.
One NFC team executive said Wednesday night that he believed the sides were "within striking distance" of a deal. However, another AFC team executive said: "There are enough legitimate issues to where it could all fall down still. They're dealing with that stuff."
One such issue is the rookie salary system, which was broached for the first time Thursday since the secret meetings began May 31. The parties have spent much of the last four weeks discussing the biggest issue, which is how to split revenue and account for growth in the players' take.
Trust had long been seen as an issue, but it might not be as much anymore. The "all revenue" model, which takes much of the guesswork out of calculating the split, has quelled many of the players' concerns. On the other side, league sources indicate Smith has won the owners' trust and respect over the last four weeks, a major development as the sides work toward a deal.