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Parties must reach resolution soon to preserve full preseason

The clock continues to tick. And NFL owners and players continue to work.

With the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears -- the participants in this year's scheduled Hall of Fame Game -- scheduled to open training camp just three weeks from Friday, time is beginning to run short for negotiating teams as they look to preserve the preseason in its traditional form. The two sides return to the bargaining table later this week for a fifth round of "secret talks."

Players involved in the negotiations traveled to Minnesota on Monday and met with their legal team. The reason for the location isn't completely clear, but Minneapolis is home to Arthur Boylan, the magistrate judge assigned to run court-ordered mediation and who has been present for the talks.

The league and players have spent a total of nine days in four different locations -- suburban Chicago, New York's Long Island, Maryland's Eastern Shore and suburban Boston -- during this phase of negotiations. They've also communicated away from the table, and one source has said that about five hours of work goes into every hour of face-to-face talks.

The parties broached the rookie pay system Thursday for the first time during these clandestine sessions, and it proved to be a difficult area to navigate. Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, received about $50 million guaranteed in his rookie deal, and the owners have long looked to drastically mark down those type of price tags.

But the numbers aren't the only issues. Among the players' concerns are finding a way to replace the effect such contracts have on the veteran market, and also get those high picks to free agency quicker (as it stands, six-year contracts are allowable for the high first-round picks making big money).

The sides have largely spent the last four weeks discussing the revenue split, an issue that dwarfs all others. And it's not just the revenue now, but also how to account for the league's future growth, particularly when the 2014 television deals are done.

One team executive told NFL Network last week the league and players were within "striking distance" of a deal, but that nothing was close or imminent. But another involved executive said: "There are enough legitimate issues to where it could all fall down still. They're dealing with that stuff."

After last week's meeting at a beachside resort in Hull, Mass., NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith emerged together and provided a symbolic moment in the joined effort toward a resolution.

"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 Boylan, as constants in the room.

Some internal deadlines have July 15 as the date a deal needs to be done to save the preseason in its natural form. At any rate, the sides are working against time now.

"We are under court order, as far as what we can discuss," Goodell said Thursday. "Obviously we're all working hard, the players and owners were here over the last few days, and (Smith) and I were here for the entire meetings also. And it's complicated and it's complex, but we're working hard. We understand the fans' frustration, but I think both of us feel strongly that we're going to continue to work hard on it."

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