Even though the collective bargaining agreement doesn't expire until after the 2020 season, there appears to be an opportunity for the NFL and NFL Players Association to come to a new agreement not just before the current CBA expires, but also before the 2019 NFL season kicks off. 

That's according to ESPN's Dan Graziano, who reported on Tuesday that CBA talks between the NFL and NFLPA will ramp up in July as the two sides eye a deal before the new season begins. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, the NFL and NFLPA have scheduled negotiations for July 17-19, during which the "potentially most contentious items" will be discussed. Finally, Graziano wrote that while "it's too soon to know whether a new agreement can be reached by the time this one expires," the NFL and NFLPA are both "optimistic" there won't be a work stoppage this time around. 

Back in May, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that a deal could possibly be reached before the upcoming season, but "negotiations would have to ramp up considerably. Unless the pace changes, that's not seen as feasible." Well, the pace appears to be ramping up. 

Obviously, all of this is good news for fans, players, and executives who have feared a potential lockout. It's also a little surprising given so much of what we've heard from players over the past couple years. 

Last summer, Rams running back Todd Gurley indicated that he believed the players were willing to strike. Then, there was 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman saying in September that a lockout is "going to happen." In May, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith advised players to "plan for a work stoppage of at least a year in length." Given all of the issues that should be debated between the two sides, none of that was surprising.

Back in May, our John Breech wrote about some of the areas the players are looking to improve:

For the players, that will likely mean a deal that gives them an increased share of league revenue, exempting marijuana from future drug tests and getting contracts to include more guarantees. Players currently get 47 percent of league revenues and any number above that would most likely mean that the salary would make bigger jumps each season. 

Meanwhile, team owners could reportedly push for an 18-game schedule, which the players likely wouldn't support due to injury concerns. According to The Monday Morning Quarterback's Albert Breer, some issues that should be addressed are stadium credits, media deals, and the revenue split. Breer added the franchise tag is not expected to be a big discussion point during negotiations. 

In 2011, there was a brief lockout, but it ended before the season. If there is a lockout this time around, it wouldn't happen until the 2021 season. But at this point, even though there's still a long ways to go and negotiations could always take a turn for the worse once the contentious items are debated, it's beginning to look like a new deal will be reached before it comes to that.