Players cautiously optimistic as tenuous labor talks progress

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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National Football League Players Association officials have informally told some individual team representatives that labor talks continue along a positive track and players should remain cautiously optimistic a deal could be reached in a matter of weeks.

Not all of the team representatives have been briefed on the latest news from the labor talks, but over the past 24 hours some were during informal phone calls and texts. The message from the higher echelon of the NFLPA is that progress continues to be made, according to several sources familiar with the situation.

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This is perhaps what Drew Brees was referring to when he recently spoke to the Associated Press. Brees' words were perhaps the most significant of this round of talks between the players and owners. He echoed what I've been hearing for some time: the players and owners have covered large chunks of territory and the differences are quickly narrowing.

"It seems like things are moving in the right direction, which is very positive," said Brees, arguably the most important and high profile symbol of the lockout. "It's what we always hoped for as players because we're getting to crunch time here. I think the gap is being narrowed in a lot of different areas." Brees has at times been highly critical of the owners' negotiating tactics, mainly accusing them of stalling. If he says a narrowing of differences is happening, you can bet it is.

Individual team representatives and rank-and-file players began contacting various union officials after an ESPN report said talks almost "blew up." The players, I'm told, were informed that the report mischaracterized the state of talks and that negotiations were actually moving in a positive direction. Indeed, the Associated Press reported that both sides have their "noses to the grindstone."

The main message from some of the individual team representatives to their players was basically that they should stay tuned. I'm told the phrase "cautious optimism" is being used repeatedly by high ranking NFLPA officials to team representatives and rank and file players.

"I think most players are in a wait and see mode," Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis told me. "I think the general sense among the players is, 'Seems like now is a time to get a deal done.'"

One reason the talks have moved in a positive direction is the two sides are getting closer on how to split the current $9 billion in revenue (revenue that might double in as little as a decade). Once that domino is toppled, many other issues could quickly fall in place.

The usual caveat remains. The talks are still highly sensitive and things could fall apart at any moment. There is also still no way of foretelling how upcoming court cases will affect the discussions.

Ruling from the two most significant could be on the horizon. A judgment from the TV lockout case -- owners stashed away television revenue and planned to use it as a lockout fund -- could come any day and the financial penalty against the owners could be hundreds of millions.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals also continues to deliberate on whether the lockout will remain in effect permanently.

The hope is that a deal could be made before any of those rulings come to fruition.

For now, the talks between the players and owners go on, and it seems like those discussions are increasingly fruitful.

For now.

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