According to a report on ESPN this morning, the NFL and NFL Players Association are close enough to an agreement that a deal could be ratified during the league meetings that begin July 21 in Atlanta and end the lockout.
Sources have indicated that the largest remaining stumbling block is a rookie wage scale. The NFLPA has agreed to cut wages in half, but refuse to sign off on a deal allowing rookie contracts to run longer than four years. Players are concerned that owners being allowed to control their draft picks for too long a time allows the “rookie wage scale” to infringe on veteran wages.
Confidence is high enough that a document called “The Transition Rules” has been released, laying out an actual timeline for the start of the league year. Originally designed for a July 1 deal, the dates have been reconfigured for a deal to be reached on the 21st.
July 21: Educate clubs on new league rules and allow voluntary training
July 25: Sign undrafted rookies and give free agents a chance to re-sign with current teams
July 28: League year starts, free agency begins
August 2: Rosters set at 90 players
August 3: Deadline for restricted free agents (RFA) to sign offer sheets
August 7: Four-day match period for teams to match RFA offers
August 12: Deadline for rookies to sign contracts (still under negotiation)
August 16: RFA signing period ends, along with period for franchise/transition tenders
August 29: Deadline for players to report, or forfeit accrued season toward free agency
The new agreement’s treatment of rookies will go a long way toward the speed of its acceptance. It’s still unknown what the consequences would be if a rookie chooses to violate the deadline to sign his contract, but owners are concerned that holdouts increase the likelihood of injury or career failure. As indicated, that section of the timeline has yet to be agreed upon by the players.
This timeline also puts the August 7 Hall of Fame Game between the Rams and Bears in serious jeopardy, falling directly in the middle of the restricted free agent period. Still, most training camps would be able to begin on time, even if owners and general managers might not get to drive around on golf carts and watch practices as much as normal.
Talks on Wednesday and Thursday are considered the most telling days for whether the July 21 ratification is realistic. The most important takeaway from today’s report is that by the end of this week, football fans may finally have the answer to their plaintive question, “Will we have football on time in 2011?”
For more on the NFL lockout, click here.
--Scott Henry (Twitter: @4QuartersRadio)