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Owners, players close to presenting deal to end NFL lockout

NEW YORK -- Legal teams and staff for NFL owners and players "chipped away," as league general counsel Jeff Pash put it, at their remaining labor issues for 8½ hours Monday at a Manhattan law firm, with an eye on ending the four-month-old lockout.

A timeline in which a new collective bargaining agreement could be struck is now in place.

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Meanwhile, in Washington, members of the NFL Players Association's executive committee began arriving for a Tuesday meeting that will be a precursor to a larger meeting Wednesday, which is scheduled to include player representatives from all 32 teams.

Those voices won't be enough to re-certify the union -- a vote of all 1,900 players is needed for that -- but the 32 reps could vote to recommend a settlement of the Brady et al v. National Football League et al case. The settlement to end the lockout then would be in the hands of the 10 named plaintiffs in that antitrust lawsuit against the league.

Also on Tuesday, Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller and lawyers for retired NFL players are meeting with representatives of owners and current players at a New York law firm for talks aimed at ending the lockout.

The court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, is also at Tuesday's session.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told The Associated Press on Monday that the players would gather "with the hope they have something to look at, and with the hope we can move forward on this."

The owners' objective is to have a completed deal to vote on at their meeting Thursday in Atlanta. In a memo sent Monday to all 32 teams, the league said that if all goes to plan, it will stage a "labor seminar" to educate clubs on the terms of the new deal, starting 90 minutes after ratification Thursday and continuing Friday at another hotel in Atlanta. Each team can have four reps, plus its owner, at that meeting.

Monday's work with the legal teams, led by Pash and Bob Batterman for the NFL and Richard Berthelsen and Jeffrey Kessler for the NFLPA, was done with an eye toward all those dates. Boylan, who was on vacation last week, also traveled to New York for the meetings, arriving at 3 p.m. and leaving 3½ hours later.

"It was good to see him again," Pash said of Boylan, who oversaw the previous six weeks of labor talks and was scheduled to meet with the parties at 9 a.m. ET Tuesday. "We'll get back to it and keep trying to make progress tomorrow."

Despite the progress and momentum, there are some important areas left to cover. Emerging as the primary issue has been the players' pursuit of $320 million in lost benefits that resulted from the 2010 uncapped year rules, sources said. The league's contention is that the players negotiated that money away in the 2006 collective bargaining agreement.

The parties also are closing in on resolutions to the issues of injury protection for players, workers' compensation rights for injured players and rules governing offseason workouts, according to sources.

One big domino to fall recently was the issue of retired player benefits, sources said. Between $900 million and $1 billion in improvements will be made in that area, with $620 million earmarked for the Legacy Fund, which benefits the pre-1993 retirees who felt neglected in previous agreements.

The issue all along was where the money would come from, and the owners and players have reached a solution that would be approximately 50-50 between cash from the cap (players) and clubs (owners). The owners' share comes out to be a bit more than the players'.

Another remaining issue is having the 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust suit accept the settlement. Three of those plaintiffs -- Peyton Manning, Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson -- currently are under the franchise-tag designation, so a settlement could include provisions over the tag itself, either for those three players or the larger group. Recouping the aforementioned $320 million in lost benefits also would be a "settlement term."

That said, owners and players essentially have agreed on what the league's economic model should be. So the biggest hurdle, splitting $9 billion to $10 billion in annual revenue and accounting for future growth in the players' take, has been cleared.

It's uncertain whether or not owners and players or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith will have any further face-to-face meetings. If Goodell and Smith, who have been in regular contact, meet in the coming days, it likely will take place in Washington.

At federal court in Minnesota, where the Brady suit is pending, lawyers filed a motion Monday asking for a summary judgment that the lockout is illegal and that players are entitled to damages. The NFL, meanwhile, asked the court for one-week extension to file their formal response to the lawsuit; the original deadline was Monday.

Those filings were necessary, procedural moves that would be rendered moot if an agreement is reached before the Aug. 29 hearing date. Later Monday, the NFL and retired players filed a joint request to delay the hearing for at least one month to allow owners "to focus on the continuing mediation."

Atallah called the current players' filing "an obligation to protect the members of the class."

"Obviously, if we come to a settlement, it all can be lifted at any time," he said.

Owners locked out players March 12, when the old CBA expired, leaving the country's most popular professional sports league in limbo. The parties are trying to forge a settlement in time to keep the preseason completely intact. The preseason opener is scheduled to be the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame Game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.

The regular-season opener is Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are scheduled to host the New Orleans Saints.

"Nobody cheers for you at Mile 25 of a marathon. You still have to cross the finish line," Atallah told The AP. "There still are things that can get you tripped up, and we're going to push through."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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