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NFL owners meeting in Chicago could be domino that topples the lockout

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NFL team owners are scheduled to gather Tuesday in the Chicago area for a meeting considered crucial to determining whether a deal with locked-out players will be completed in coming weeks.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials will attempt to address concerns of some owners about terms that have been under discussion in recent weeks. Several people familiar with the owners’ deliberations said in recent days that Tuesday’s session is designed to give each owner a chance to express an opinion on the state of the negotiations.

A deal with the players likely would be completed in the next few weeks if Goodell is able to satisfy some owners’ concerns.

“If everyone emerges from this meeting on the same page in support of the deal, then you should see it get done,” said one person who is not involved in the talks but has knowledge of the details under deliberation. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Any deal would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 NFL owners. People familiar with the owners’ deliberations said there does not appear to be a sufficient number of dissenting owners to block an agreement now. But, those people added, it’s not clear yet what might happen when all the owners gather as a group for the first time since the talks put an accord within reach.

Some owners are concerned that the terms under discussion might not protect the teams against a future downturn in the national economy. It is not clear which owners, or how many, have such concerns. There are differing accounts within league circles about where certain owners stand.

Two owners, the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Mike Brown, voted against the league’s most recent labor settlement in 2006. Other owners later criticized that deal as overly favorable to the players, and the owners voted unanimously in 2008 to end it two years early.

No formal vote is expected at this owners meeting, which will be held at a hotel near O’Hare Airport. The NFL told owners last week to keep their schedules flexible in case the meeting runs late Tuesday or spills over into Wednesday.

Players have been locked out by the owners since March 12, one day after they dissolved their union and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners. Negotiations between the league and the players’ side have intensified over the last three weeks, even as the two sides await a ruling by a federal appeals court on whether the lockout will remain in place.

Goodell and a small group of owners met with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the dissolved union, and players during three sets of recent meetings in the Chicago, New York and Washington areas. Among the owners present were the New York Giants’ John Mara, the New England Patriots’ Robert Kraft, the Carolina Panthers’ Jerry Richardson, the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Clark Hunt, the San Diego Chargers’ Dean Spanos and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney II.

The talks are expected to resume later this week. People familiar with the negotiations said that if owners give league officials the go-ahead, the two sides could try to push through an agreement by the July 4 holiday. But others have said the complex negotiations still could unravel, and it might not be possible to complete a deal before mid-July.

With the season scheduled to begin Sept. 8, a deal by mid-July probably would give the league time for a free agent signing period before a full training camp, preseason and regular season.

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