Negotiators for the NFL and its players are near an agreement on rookie pay, clearing a major obstacle toward reaching a new labor accord and reopening football a week before training camps are scheduled to start, three people familiar with the talks said.
Rookie pay dominated negotiations this week after the sides neared a deal on how to divide a projected $9.3 billion in revenue that would give just less than half to players, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the talks publicly.
Also Thursday, according to an ESPN report, the sides reached a tentative agreement to make this year's salary cap $120 million per team. The 2009 salary cap was $123 million. The 2010 season didn't have a ceiling on team payrolls.
The sides have met in New York for the past two weeks. More talks are scheduled today.
Completing the new collective bargaining agreement this week would help the sport avoid missing one or more rounds of preseason games, which the league says are worth about $200 million in revenue every week.
The federal magistrate judge mediating the dispute last week scheduled a meeting with both sides for Tuesday before starting his vacation. NFL owners could ratify an agreement at a special league meeting scheduled for Thursday near Atlanta.
The sides are still discussing topics including safety, health care and workers' compensation, the people said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy didn't immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Carl Francis, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, declined to comment in an e-mail.
NFL owners locked out players in March. The players sued, behind Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, claiming antitrust violations and wage-fixing. A federal appeals court upheld the lockout last week, saying a lower court erred in blocking it.
The lockout came about five weeks after the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers attracted the largest U.S. television audience in history, capping a season watched by a record 207.7 million people, according to Neilsen Co. data.
Jeff Pash, the NFL's chief negotiator, said after a league meeting outside Chicago last month that reopening for business would require making sure legal documents are fully drafted and approved, then ratified by both sides. Owners and players also will have to seek approval from "various courts" to deal with litigation.
Pash said he didn't know how long that might take. Once the sides reach a handshake agreement, owners and players will want to "move as quickly as we could," he said.
Training camps for the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open next Friday, with the teams slated to play the first preseason game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
Sun news services contributed to this article.