The NFL and player representatives Monday continued inching closer on a new collective bargaining agreement and on resolving all remaining legal entanglements between the sides. Barring an unexpected snag in negotiations, a deal could be approved Thursday, when owners meet in Atlanta.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the federally appointed mediator in the longstanding dispute, returned from a trip to Ireland. He found that the sides had made remarkable progress in his absence, agreeing to all major financial issues, as well as a rookie salary structure that proved to be the last major stumbling block in CBA negotiations.
Legal issues Monday took center stage, as lawyers for the NFL and the players had settlement discussions on several fronts. Attorneys are seeking to settle an antitrust suit filed against the NFL by 10 players, including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The Brady lawsuit was joined by several retired players, including former Vikings defensive end Carl Eller, so any settlement talks would include that segment of the lawsuit.
The sides also are trying to settle a case in which the NFL was found to be in violation of the CBA by negotiating network television contracts. Damages from that case, which was decided in March by District Court Judge David S. Doty, could exceed $1 billion, but resolving the matter would eliminate any sanctions.
Meetings will continue Wednesday in New York and in Washington, where members of the NFL Players Association's executive committee will meet. Player representatives from the 32 teams will join the meetings Wednesday, and players could vote on the proposed pact that day. A simple majority is needed.
A minimum 24 owners are needed to agree on a CBA. Teams are sending key front-office personnel to Atlanta to be briefed on the rules governing the deal.
Teams would have three days to sign their own free agents, draft picks and undrafted free agents. On July 28, a five-day signing period would take place for all unrestricted free agents. Training camps also could open around that time.
"Making progress," said NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, who also represents locked-out NBA players.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke by phone Monday and planned to stay in regular contact.
"Nobody cheers for you at Mile 25 of a marathon. You still have to cross the finish line," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said. "There still are things that can get you tripped up, and we're going to push through."
Key provisions of the 10-year deal:
Players will receive 46-48 percent of gross revenues, without the $1 billion credit the NFL requested.
The salary cap will be reinstituted; it's set at about $120 million for the 2011 season.
Players will become free agents after a minimum of four years of service, once their contracts expire. Last year, without the salary cap, players needed at least six years' experience to be eligible for free agency.
A reconfigured rookie salary structure will dramatically lower salaries in the top half of the draft, and no rookie contract will exceed five years. The fifth will be an option year at the club's discretion but would offer a salary commensurate with the best-paid players at their respective positions.
Teams can still use the franchise tag for one player.
Retired players will see close to $1 billion in additional pension and benefits.
mcmahon hurt in limo crash: Former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon and two others were injured Monday when a limousine crashed through a fence south of Reno, the Nevada Highway Patrol said.
The patrol said the accident happened about 2 p.m. McMahon was at Lake Tahoe over the weekend for a celebrity golf tournament.
The limo, owned by Bell Limousine of Reno, left a four-lane highway, crashed through a wire fence, over a culvert and into a pasture.
A patrol spokesman said McMahon was in a lot of pain from "non-incapacitating" injuries.
A woman traveling with McMahon, 51, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The patrol identified her as Lori Navon, 45, of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Driver Robert McCoy, 40, of Sparks was injured and taken to the Renown Regional Medical Center.
Alcohol was not involved, and the cause of the accident was under investigation, the patrol said.
Ponder ARRIVES in Minnesota: Former FSU quarterback Christian Ponder joined NFL players working out at the University of Minnesota. The rookie ran passing and conditioning drills with some of his soon-to-be Vikings teammates and others, including Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the organizer of the workouts. Ponder drove from Florida to Minnesota over the weekend. "This workout is kicking my butt. Eating all that fast food and everything is not a good deal. I'm sweating it out," Ponder said.
Bengals: Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Cincinnati.
Colts: Defensive end Jerry Hughes was reportedly arrested in Dallas on a preliminary charge of public intoxication. Hughes and his former Texas Christian teammates, Cory Grant and Stephen Hodge, were arrested about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Dallas police say a disturbance in The Bank nightclub continued on a sidewalk.