Negotiators for the NFL and locked-out players ended an eventful week of talks in Minneapolis with a morning meeting Friday, then took a break for the holiday weekend after repairing a rift that nearly led to a breakdown in negotiations Thursday.
The talks are scheduled to resume Tuesday in New York.
Representatives of the two sides met for a little less than three hours Friday with their court-appointed mediator, Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan.
That came after day-long negotiations Thursday that stretched into early Friday morning. At one point Thursday, it appeared the talks were stalled over the central issue of how to divide the sport’s $9.3 billion in annual revenue.
But negotiators and Boylan put the talks back on course, according to people who are not involved in the deliberations but are familiar with them.
A handshake deal by the end of next week is possible but far from certain, said those people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations. Participants in the talks have refrained from commenting publicly about specifics, citing instructions from the court.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the decertified NFL Players Association, participated in this week’s talks. Small groups of owners and players joined the negotiations late in the week. Staff members are scheduled to join Goodell and Smith at the start of next week’s talks, with owners and players arriving later in the week.
A deal by the end of next week would give the two sides about two weeks to have the agreement drawn up and approved before a free agent signing period and training camps. If there is no deal next week, people in the sport said, it would become increasingly difficult to stage a free agent signing period of significant length before on-time training camps and a full preseason.
If there is no agreement by mid-July, part of the preseason could be in jeopardy. Each week of the preseason generates about $200 million in league-wide revenue, according to NFL officials. The regular season is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.
Players have been locked out since March 12. Both sides are awaiting a ruling by a federal appeals court on the legality of the lockout itself.
Friday’s meeting was comparatively short but significant. The two sides had not planned to meet Friday if they weren’t making progress, and it appeared at midday Thursday that talks were on the verge of breaking off.
There were multiple reports that the players’ side believed the league had backed off a previous commitment to a simplified plan for dividing revenue that would have given players just less than half the money.
It is not clear whether the two sides returned to the simplified division of revenue approach late Thursday night. The revenue split seems to be the largest issue of the negotiations, although reportedly there has been some tension in recent weeks over a new pay plan for rookies.
Other issues seem likely to fall into place if the major economic issues are resolved. The league previously backed off a proposal to move to an 18-game regular season without the players’ approval. The NFL also has agreed to a reduction in the number of offseason workouts for players.
The league also wants to end ongoing court oversight of labor matters and has proposed blood-testing players for human growth hormone.