Promise has sprung from the latest round of talks between the NFL and players, who resumed clandestine face-to-face negotiations Tuesday on Maryland's eastern shore, the third such set of talks they've staged this month.
According to sources, both the NFL and NFL Players Association are evaluating and strongly considering concessions on all fronts, and that has led to a belief that a deal could be done in two to four weeks. In a sign of the progress made, the legal teams on both sides have returned to the meetings, after sitting out the sessions in suburban Chicago and Long Island. N.Y. the past two weeks.
The talks are expected to continue into Wednesday.
A person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the two sides are headed in the right direction. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the meeting are not being made public.
Two other people familiar with the talks told The AP a framework for a new collective bargaining agreement could be in place before the owners' meetings next Tuesday in suburban Chicago. A memo went out to owners asking that they keep their schedules for next week flexible, in case the June 21 meeting spills into Tuesday night or even Wednesday.
Both sides entered the negotiations seeing a "window of opportunity" of roughly 30 days to resolve the labor situation. The owners are planning to meet once a month until the situation is resolved.
People familiar with the talks told The AP it would be premature to predict an imminent end to the lockout, but the atmosphere of negotiations has been more positive than it was previously, creating "a sense of movement."
"All along we just needed to sit down together," Whitworth said. "The problem we really had before was nobody could get around the attorneys and lawyers and all these kinds of things and just talk and figure this thing out. Finally we got a chance where you've got owners and players and (NFLPA Executive Director) DeMaurice Smith and all those guys sitting face-to-face and negotiating.
"That's how you get a deal done. You don't hire an attorney to get you a contract when you get drafted. You get an agent to negotiate. Once we got around the legal stuff, we started to make ground and I think we're really close."
The parties met for three days outside Chicago two weeks ago, in the days leading up to the June 3 injunction appeal hearing before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and again last week for two days on Long Island.
It's been 94 days since the NFL locked the players out, with this past Sunday marking three months. There are still 86 days until the 2011 NFL Kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 8 in Green Bay, but the league and players are working toward an agreement that would preserve training camps and the entire preseason.
The league estimates that the cancellation of the preseason could cost it as much as $1 billion. Whether that figure is accurate or not, both parties recognize that the major economic losses that would be incurred by this dispute dragging through the summer would make negotiations exponentially tougher.
Sources say internal deadlines to have some semblance of a "normal" preseason with the games preserved sit on or around July 15.
To this point, labor committee members Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), John Mara (New York Giants), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers), Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs) and Dean Spanos (San Diego Chargers), active players Mike Vrabel (Kansas City Chiefs), Tony Richardson (New York Jets), Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore Ravens) and Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis Colts), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFLPA president Kevin Mawae have taken part in the "secret" meetings.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who ran court-ordered mediation between the NFL and players in Minneapolis in April and May, also has been involved but is serving in a different capacity at these summits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.