NFL labor talks: What we learned

CHICAGO -- NFL owners met for a little more than five hours Tuesday at a Chicago airport hotel to hear from commissioner Roger Goodell about the progress of labor talks.

Although he appeared a little fatigued after dealing with five hours of owners’ concerns, Goodell, along with his negotiating team, appears to have the go-ahead to plow through the final run at getting a collective bargaining deal with players. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who, according to sources, had concerns about some proposals if the economy got worse, said things were progressing but a lot of work still must be done.

A deal still might be two or three weeks away. Talks are scheduled Wednesday between the NFL and DeMaurice Smith and players in an undisclosed location in Boston, where the framework of a deal could begin to be finalized.

Here’s what we learned Tuesday:

Show me the money: To get this deal done, owners are willing to let players earn 48 percent of all revenue, according to sources. They had never received less than 50 percent during the salary cap era and had asked for 50 percent of revenues in this deal. For months, owners had been at the 42- and 44-percent level. But Goodell and involved owners apparently accepted the players’ argument that anything less than 48 percent would make the players’ take $4.7 billion this year, which is unacceptable for the players. That would be less than what players made in salaries and benefits in 2009. With players willing to accept a lower percentage and a possible $120 million salary cap per team that would be $7 million less than in 2009, taking the entire monetary value down below that 2009 threshold would have been too much. As a trade back, the players, according to a source, are willing to take a lower percentage in some future years, possibly as low at 46.5 percent. Under that formula, revenues would be at an increased level -- possibly $16 billion by 2016 -- so players would allow their percentage to shrink in order to help owners ease credit costs on future stadium deals.

Addressing minimum payrolls: This might disappoint low-revenue teams such as Cincinnati and Buffalo, but owners are willing to give players a major improvement in minimum team payrolls. In the prior CBA, a team’s payroll minimum was 86 percent of the salary cap, but that was off just the cap number and teams could build in phony incentives to make up the difference. To get a deal, according to a source, owners now are willing to guarantee close to 100 percent of the salary cap as the minimum amount of payroll on a team’s books. That means a team would have to have a minimum cash payroll of close to $120 million if the cap were at $120 million. High-revenue teams apparently don’t have a problem with that.

Prepare for free-agency frenzy: If and when an agreement is reached, all players whose contracts have expired and have four or more years of experience are expected to be unrestricted free agents. (There was a 6-year requirement for free agency in 2010.) That is going to create the potential for an insane July. The hope would be to open training camps on time and maybe start free agency around July 15. Colts owner Jim Irsay came out of the meeting very positive, which indicates there won’t be a major change in the franchise player policy. Quarterback Peyton Manning is the Colts’ franchise player, but he’s also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the league. Irsay had to worry about a settlement that made Manning a free agent. The Colts can’t afford to lose Manning, and the league can’t afford to lose Irsay’s vote on the agreement.

Retired players update: While the owners work on the settlement with current players, they may actually be closer to a deal with retired players. Carl Eller, whose retired players lawsuit is being heard in Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s federal court, spent an hour in discussions in Chicago with some designated owners to work on resolving that case. The results from that could be interesting because retired players could break from the NFL Players Association in resolving long-term benefits for the players who made this game great.