NFL lockout to be over by July 21?

Retired Minnesota Vikings defensive end Carl Eller enters a federal courthouse for court-ordered mediation regarding labor and revenue issues between the NFL and the NFL Players Association in Minneapolis, May 16, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL CRIME LAW BUSINESS)

There is growing belief “inside league circles” that the NFL and NFLPA will have an agreement in place that can be ratified during the July 21 league meetings in Atlanta says ESPN.com.

As one NFL owner said this weekend, there’s “no reason to believe it won’t get done.”

Other people familiar with the talks now think an agreement in principle will be put in place in the next seven to 10 days, a handshake deal that would allow each side to ratify the deal to start the 2011 season.

Of course, as usual, not all of the news is positive.

However, one member of the players’ negotiating team who has been a constant presence at the table said that players feel they have made significant concessions and overtures “that have not been reciprocated.”

He stated that 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.

According to the article, if the deal were to be ratified by July 21, all preseason games would still be played. That said, I can’t envision a scenario in which the Hall of Fame game will still be played on August 7. Teams still have to sign rookies and free agents, get players into camp, and get them into some type of game shape so injuries don’t become a huge problem heading into the regular season. If the league were to keep the preseason games as scheduled, it could open a Pandora’s Box where players are dropping left and right because they’re not in proper game shape. I know a lot of players have been working out this entire time, but they’re still going to need 3-4 weeks to get in football shape. (If not more.)

But in terms of the lockout in general, I won’t get my hopes up until the first free agent is signed. That would signal the official end of the labor dispute. Until then, it seems like the framework of any deal between the players and owners is constructed on top of a deck of cards. The entire thing could come crashing down at any time. Still, the latest reports remain positive and as I wrote earlier this month, I believe a deal will be in place by the end of July.

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