The NFL and the players union will hold a negotiating session Tuesday, with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith hopeful of getting a formal proposal from the owners.
The NFL opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last year, although the contract won't expire until after the 2010 season. That season will not have a salary cap under the current CBA, and Smith says he is hopeful of having an agreement before then.
Team owners say the contract, negotiated in 2006 by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the late Gene Upshaw, then the union's chief, heavily favors the players.
"I'm looking forward to the meeting," Smith said in a conference call Monday. "I'm hoping both sides are in a position to discuss the issues that confront players and management.
"I would like nothing more than to have a deal before we move into an uncapped year. I remain optimistic because after six months in this job and the beginning of our season, I'm convinced of one thing: Our fans love our game."
That love would be tested by a work stoppage, which the NFL has avoided since 1987 -- while the other major sports (NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball) all have had strikes or lockouts.
Smith has said he expects the owners to lock out the players if there is no agreement in 2011, something NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has debunked.
"Our players want a deal before the uncapped year," Smith said. "That is what we have committed ourselves to do. It's why I wanted to have substantive talks sooner rather than later.
"The players would like a deal sooner rather than later. I think our fans would like a deal sooner rather than later."