The owners and players met in two different cities over the past two weeks and made progress toward settling the current labor dispute.
Both sides will meet again this week, and there is some cautious optimism that something could get done before the end of June. The good news is that a June settlement would mean no games would be lost.
What's interesting, though, according to sources, is what might transpire in July. Let's say, for example, a deal is reached in late June. The league would have to figure out the start of free agency.
While it may be optimistic to think free agency could start the first week of July, it's a possibility. The more likely scenario is for free agency to start around July 15.
One of the next decisions would be getting players back to work. Coaches would like to have a brief minicamp for players to make sure that everyone has playbooks and that players are in shape. They could have a mid-July minicamp and then have the players report to training camp after a brief vacation.
That timing might not work out, and it's possible that the first time coaches could get together with players would be at camp.
It's also not out of the question for the owners to shorten camps a little. Under the previous deal, veterans had to report to camp 15 days before the first preseason game. A new labor agreement could shorten that time for safety reasons -- concussion studies have suggested that fewer padded practices would be better. A shorter training camp could be implemented this year.
All of this is meaningless until an agreement is reached, but at least there is some hope now.
From the inbox
Q: It seems everyone believes Alex Smith will re-sign with San Fran this year. Do you think this is a good move for Smith? If the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb, I really believe that they would be a great option for Smith. Three reasons why: 1) The Eagles are a stable organization, unlike San Fran. 2) Andy Reid & Marty Mornhinweg are probably the best QB coaching tandem in the league. 3) While he would be the backup, he would get playing time when Michael Vick gets hurt.
Richardson in Los Angeles
A: As unpopular as Smith's re-signing might be, Smith is making a smart move going back to the 49ers. First of all, I don't think the Eagles would want Smith as a backup. They like developing their own quarterbacks. They like Mike Kafka. The door is closed there. Smith has had too much change during his career. Even though he's been a 49er his entire career, he's had seven offensive coordinators. To go to another team, he'd have to not only learn another system, he'd have to get used to a completely different group of players. With no offseason programs and no coaching, Smith would be putting himself in a position to fail by going to a new team. From his standpoint, he did the right thing.
Q: Do you think Jake Locker will start this season for the Titans? If so what kind of season in your opinion do you think he could have?
Jim in Gallatin, Tenn.
A: Some of the Titans who watched him practice last week believe he could be the starter. He'd probably be around a 55-percent thrower in his first year. He'd need a great season from Chris Johnson and the running game to make things work, which makes it that much more important that the Titans get Johnson signed to a contract extension so that he doesn't hold out into the season. I'd be thinking in the range of six to eight wins if the Titans start Locker.
Kevin in San Jose, Calif.
A: This might sound crazy, but I'd go with Dez. Sure, he's a handful for a coach. You're not sure if he's going to be on time for meetings. He has issues off the field. But when I went to see him in a Dallas minicamp, I saw a bigger, faster version of Crabtree who had better hands and made more big plays. I think both receivers are going to be good, but Bryant has more talent and at some point that talent will show.
Q: Do you see an expansion year in the near future whenever the lockout ends and the owners don't get their 18 games a season? Additional teams generate additional games, which should benefit the whole league financially. Or is this reasoning too simple in regard to the costs and political issues installing, let's say, two new teams?
Alain in Zurich
A: It's possible but the league likes its 32-team model. Sure, they'd like to add an overseas team. If Los Angeles gets a stadium but can't get a team to move there, they might have to dangle an expansion team. Remember, if you add teams, they eventually expand the number of owners to share in the revenue. The first thing is getting a collective bargaining agreement to take care of the 32 teams and 32 owners. After that, they can start looking to the future.
Q: My beloved Buffalo Bills made some good strides last year. There were a lot of games that they were still in at the end, and only lost by a little, some even on the last possession. Clearly, they're not the league elites, but they've quietly started reassembling the pieces back in Buffalo. What do you think, are they in the top 10 percent of the middle one-third?
Bill in Pittsburgh
A: Unfortunately, I still think they are in the bottom third. Chan Gailey really did a great job coaching, and Ryan Fitzpatrick exceeded expectations at quarterback. But I question the talent in the front seven of the defense, and they still have holes along the offensive line. For talent, they are fourth best in the AFC East. I would consider it great progress if they could get to six or seven wins, but I'm not sure they can get there.
Q: With my Saints at least appearing to have the highest rate of attendance at their player-organized workouts during this lockout, wouldn't it make sense that a significantly prolonged lockout that would eat up the entire offseason would place them at a serious advantage when they inevitably DO start playing games? I can't help but feel that the advantage they're building now could evaporate if a new CBA is in place in time for a normal training camp, but if the entire league ends up rushing through some last-second abbreviated camp, then I think the work the Saints are doing now will be a much bigger advantage. Is a 12-game season the Saints' best hope for another trophy this year?
Will in New Orleans
A: There is no question Camp Brees has put the Saints ahead of most teams. Drew Brees paid for an elaborate camp with trainers, game tapes and playbooks. Attendance for those sessions was great. What I find interesting, though, is two other NFC South teams -- Atlanta and Tampa Bay -- also had good offseason attendance at workouts. The good news is that I'm starting to hear a deal could be done by the end of June or early July. That means a 16-game season and four preseason games. The Saints have a chance.
Q: Chad Henne, seriously? As a franchise QB? The longer he's there, the less value the Dolphins get out of Brandon Marshall, who should be the centerpiece of the offense. All they need to do to have a successful offense is find a QB that doesn't lose games and knows how to play within his own skill set. Do you think the "Team" is really going to address the QB position after the lockout, or are they sticking with Bad Chad?
Eric in New York
A: The Dolphins do have a "hanging Chad." Chad is going to hang around another year even though they might bring in a veteran to compete against him. There will be little time for that quarterback to beat him out. I think the circumstance would be different if the Bengals were willing to trade Carson Palmer -- I think the Dolphins would move on Palmer quickly. Unfortunately for Palmer, there will be no trade. The Bengals will let him sit out the season.
Q: Do you think the 3-4 defensive scheme of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will improve the defense of the Texans? How will Mario Williams do at his new position as an outside LB?
Sean in Houston
A: It can't be worse, right? The Texans had one of the worst seasons of any defense last year. It was embarrassing. Wade is a master of the quick fix. He may only get this unit to around the 20th best in the league, but that would be a dramatic improvement. All he's going to do with Mario Williams is let him rush the quarterback. Phillip's 3-4 is more like a 4-3: guys shoot the gaps and he emphasizes pressuring the quarterback. That will help the cornerbacks. Too bad he wasn't willing to come in after being let go by the Cowboys last year, as he could've helped Gary Kubiak in the second half of the season.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.