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Source Says NFL Owners, Players “In Red Zone” Of Labor Negotiations

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated spent Wednesday posing questions to sources within the NFL, asking in essence if the league and its players are on the 5-yard line of this long and arduous march toward a deal, or if this particular drive still threatens to come up short and potentially wreck the 2011 season.

“I’d say that back in March, we weren’t in the same stadium,” said one league source of the players and owners. “But if you think of both sides as a team, now we’re in the red zone, we’re driving, we can see the goal line and we have momentum. But can we still screw it up? Absolutely. That’s why tomorrow and Friday are big days, because it’s back to the (negotiating) formula that’s been most successful.”

Attorneys for both sides met Tuesday and Wednesday to draft contract language and the necessary paperwork that would be part of any potential CBA — sort of building the framework for a deal with many key details to be added later — but in truth that process started weeks ago with a document exchange, a league source said. It’s another indication that significant progress has been made for a while now, and that once the big question of the overall revenue split between owners and players gets set in stone, many other dominoes involved in the deal will quickly fall in line.

“It does feel like we’re at the 5-yard line, and we’re right there,” one NFL general manager said Wednesday. “But it’s like Jerome Bettis has the ball, and I’ve seen him fumble on the 1-yard line before. If there’s a fumble now, hopefully either Goodell or Smith plays Ben Roethlisberger and stops the whole thing from falling apart.” The biggest cause for optimism that this round of talks will succeed, league sources said, is that the right people are doing the direct negotiating. The owners and players have become comfortable with each other, as well as the back and forth between the two sides, as have Goodell and Smith.

As one source said: “I wouldn’t underestimate the value of the people in the room. It’s very important.” Said another NFL general manager: “I’m optimistic because they’re having discussions, and then they’re going back in and having more discussions. You don’t do that unless both sides feel like there’s an opportunity. You don’t do it to just spin your wheels. The most positive thing I’ve read, whether it’s true or not, is that the lawyers are not the negotiators. Getting them out of the mix is the best thing I’ve heard.”

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