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NFL owners, union close in on deal

Players uniexecutive director DeMaurice Smith deals with reporters Friday. | Louis Lanzano~AP

Players union executive director DeMaurice Smith deals with reporters Friday. | Louis Lanzano~AP

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM

For weeks, there have been assorted — and often conflicting — reports that NFL owners and players were nearing a labor agreement.

But after another round of negotiations Friday in New York, there was universal optimism that the sides were inching toward a conclusion, and league executives are preparing for pandemonium before the preseason.

“The discussions this week have been constructive, and progress has been made on a wide range of issues,” the NFL and the NFL Players Association said in a joint statement. “Our legal and financial teams will continue to work through the weekend.

“We will continue to respect the confidentiality orders of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan and will therefore refrain from commenting on specific issues or aspects of the negotiations. We will provide additional information as developments in this process continue.”

On Thursday, after months of back and forth, the owners and players finally settled on how to split $9 billion in revenue, and they addressed several other points of contention, including a modified rookie salary structure. According to, the major key was related to player safety and related ­issues, including the offseason program.

Ultimately, players and owners will be thrilled if they can consummate a collective-bargaining agreement without losing any games. The Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 between the Bears and St. Louis Rams figures to be a casualty. But owners — and even employees — of both teams won’t be too distraught about losing one game.

Either way, there will be little time for anyone associated with the NFL to celebrate.

General managers and personnel evaluators will have to cram months of offseason work into weeks, initiating what’s sure to be one of the most frenzied periods in recent memory.

After the sides come to an agreement in principle, attorneys will need to finalize language, and owners and players will have to approve the deal. Agents and team executives will be apprised of the new rules, and teams will have to adjust accordingly, via contract restructurings and outright releases, to get below the projected salary cap of $123 million.

On the flip side, a handful of teams on the other end of the spectrum — such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals — will have to figure out how to splurge to reach the salary floor, which could be $110  million.

At this juncture, assuming the salary cap is $123 million, the Bears will have to be among the spenders; they’re projected to be at least $30  million under. Teams also will have to sign undrafted free agents and drafted rookies.

One league source said the expectation is that teams with new coaching staffs might be among the most aggressive at the onset of free agency as they try to add players who suit their style.

This might be the offseason to do it because it could be a buyer’s market.

In fact, another source said many of the free agents might be inclined to re-sign with their current teams for one year to distinguish themselves and try to strike a rich deal next offseason.

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