Sports

Time to dust off the jerseys and coolers?

Don’t break out the tailgate gear just yet. An end to the NFL lockout might not be imminent.

It does appears much closer than at any point in the last three months, though.

Recent progress in labor talks between the league and players has sparked a new sense of optimism, and team owners have been told to be ready to extend their one-day gathering in Chicago next week.

The two sides made progress in labor negotiations held Tuesday at an undisclosed location in Maryland. Those talks will go through at least today and quite possibly to the end of the week.

A person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press that finalizing an agreement by next week’s meeting of owners is unlikely. But a framework for a new collective bargaining agreement could be presented in Chicago, with further tweaking extending the work stoppage until the end of the month.

A new CBA could be in place before the July 4th weekend, the person added, speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the meeting are not being made public.

Another person familiar with the talks said that the owners and players are “headed in the right direction” and that lawyers “are back in the room” after being excluded from sessions the past two weeks.

Previous “secret” meetings have taken place in Chicago and New York. Such sessions have been critical in past NFL negotiations, dating back to the 1980s.

Still, it would be premature to predict that the lockout is about to end, sources said. Yet the atmosphere of negotiations has been more positive than it was previously, creating “a sense of movement,” they said.

That movement toward an agreement might be in both sides’ best interest after a federal appeals court judge warned the owners and players they might not like the upcoming decisions in legal actions sparked by the lockout. Indeed, the court could delay any rulings if a new CBA appears to be near.

On hand at the meetings were NFL commissioner Roger Goodell; NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith; several owners, including John Mara of the Giants and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys; and a large group of players that includes NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Tony Richardson and Domonique Foxworth.

Although no deadlines have been set for the opening of training camps, the 32 teams soon must decide whether to delay them, particularly those clubs that stage a portion of camp out of town. Settling before July 4 almost certainly would provide for full training camps at previously planned locations.

First would come a period of free agency, including the signing of undrafted rookies, and probably minicamps, which already have been canceled by the lockout that began March 12.

The lockout also has cost the league and some teams advertising and sponsorship money, and some players have not collected workout bonuses. At least seven teams have instituted pay-cuts or furloughs of employees who are not players.

FAVRE SEEKS NON-PLAYING FUTURE

Brett Favre says while his playing days are definitely over, he hasn’t decided what he’s going to do with himself in the coming years.

The three-time league MVP hosted the “Brett Favre 7 on 7 at The Rock” football camp on the campus of Southern Miss, his alma mater in Hattiesburg, Miss. He mingled with players and coaches in nearly 100-degree heat, and occasionally squads would gather around the 41-year-old for a pep talk.

“I’m just one of the guys,” Favre said. “And I enjoy it that way. If anything, that’s what I want these kids to take away from this.”

The 24-team camp for high school players was used to raise money for the quarterback’s “Favre 4 Hope Foundation” and his “USM Brett Favre Scholarship” endowment.

Favre says he likes dealing with young players, citing their willingness to learn, but didn’t want to be tied down by a full-time coaching commitment. He says he has enjoyed staying around Southern Miss but has “no plans right now and we’ll see where that takes me.”

Favre has made occasional appearances in his home state during the spring, including throwing out the first pitch before a game during the Conference USA baseball tournament in Pearl.

The quarterback has famously flip-flopped about his playing future in the past, retiring with the Green Bay Packers in 2008 and the New York Jets in 2009 before deciding to play again. This time, it appears he’s content to be a bystander.

“It’s been a long time since I watched a high school football game, or a college game for that matter,” Favre said. “I kind of look forward to it.”

Favre played last season with the Minnesota Vikings, but his 20th year in the league was remembered more for injuries and off-the-field turmoil than results on the field. He threw 11 touchdowns, 19 interceptions and his 69.9 quarterback rating was the lowest of his career.

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