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Why there’s reason to think it’s do or die this week on the labor front

07.11.11 at 2:00 pm ET
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This could be the best week for NFL fans. Or it could be the more frustrating.

According to an ESPN report, the NFL and NFL Players Assocation are expected to reach an agreement that will be ratified during the July 21 league meetings in Atlanta. The report credits sources familar with the state of negotiations and quotes an unidentified owner as saying that there’s “no reason to believe it won’t get done.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and his son Jonathan, have been key players at the negotiating table for the owners while the newly-retired Mike Vrabel, a member of all three Patriots Super Bowl-winning teams, has been at the table for the Players Association.

The Patriots are scheduled to open preseason the weekend of Aug. 11-15 with a home game against Jacksonville. They open the season Monday night Sept. 12 in Miami against the Dolphins.

Talks resumed Monday in New York City, with two key dates on the horizon.

Vacationing U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan has scheduled a meeting between the principles and their lawyers for July 19 in Minneapolis. Boylan adjudicated the court-ordered mediation in April and May and has presided over talks the last six weeks. Two days later, the owners have a meeting scheduled in Atlanta.

The ESPN story incudes some concern from a member of the players’ negotiating team, who indicated players feel they have made significant concessions “that have not been reciprocated,” and that “we’ve basically reached the limits of compromise.”

The players’ source told ESPN that the union agreed to cut rookie compensation in half but won’t agree to change the right for rookies to become free agents after four years in the league.

[Click here to listen to Chris Mortensen break down the rookie wage issue on Mut & Merloni on WEEI on Monday.]

He also indicated negotiations Wednesday and Thursday will be the most telling days on whether an agreement indeed will be finalized within the July 21 time frame because “we’ve basically reached the limits of compromise.”

The same source added that the players have agreed to cut rookie compensation in half but won’t agree to a deal that does not allow for the rookie class to become free agents at the end of four years.

ESPN reports the lone exception could relate to allowing a fifth year for quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round, with their salary being set at the average of the top-10 players at their position in the fifth year. The player source said that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones proposed that idea but it was rejected fellow owners.

If everything goes well this week, and a deal is in place for July 21 ratification, then it’s likely the July 19 court date would simply be a formality to indicate to the court that a deal has been reached and is ready for ratification from both sides.

The rookie wage system has been identified as the most complex issue still to be resolved between the owners and players as they return to the negotiating table this week in New York.

Perhaps the most encouraging news in the last several days is the revelation of “The Transition Rules,” a document NFL teams would follow if and when both players and owners ratify a new labor agreement.

According to ESPN, the “Transition Rules” spell out an actual timeline for roster transactions under the July 21 deal scenario, including the start of the new league year during which free agents would become eligible for the open market on July 28.

Approximately three months of NFL business would need to be crammed into a three-week window in order to preserve most of the preseason while allowing for appropriate training camps for all teams to get ready for the season on Sept. 8 in Green Bay. Under the “Transition Rules,” teams will be busy trying to fill rosters that must be set at 90 players by approximately Aug. 3, with all training camps would be able to open on time.

If the deal were to be ratified July 21, it would assure that almost all preseason games would be played, according to ESPN sources.

The one game in jeopardy would be the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame matchup between the Bears and Rams in Canton, Ohio.

Read More: Arthur Boylan, Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones, Jonathan Kraft
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