NFL owners, players meet again

Round 4 of the "secret" negotiations is over. Round 5 is coming soon -- perhaps to a suburban locale near you.

NFL owners and players met Thursday for the second straight day in Hull, Mass., 18 miles south of Boston, as they attempt to close in on a collective bargaining agreement.

"The players and owners were here over the last two days," commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday as he stood next to players association chief DeMaurice Smith. "De and I were here for the entire meetings also. And it's complicated and it's complex, but we're working hard and we understand the fans' frustration. But I think both of us feel strongly that we're going to continue to work hard at it."

A league statement said the sides will have more meetings. Two people familiar with the talks told The Associated Press they will be early next week.

One of the two people who spoke on condition of anonymity said conference calls are being set up to discuss various issues, but not the major one of splitting revenues.

The person said that was being negotiated "face to face."
The two people declined to be identified because the meetings were confidential.

In the past four weeks, the owners and players have met outside of Chicago, New York and on the Maryland shore before heading to the beachside in New England.

Among those at the meetings were owners John Mara of the New York Giants, Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers.

Smith was there along with several players, including Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Richardson of the New York Jets, and Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens.

"Someone asked me whether I was optimistic," Smith said. "I think we're both optimistic when we have the right people in the room. We know we're talking about the right issues and that we're working hard to get it done."

The latest talks took place at the Nantasket Beach Resort, which released a statement Thursday saying "they had a great stay with us and hopefully had a productive series of meetings at the resort."

The two sides have exchanged proposals on a variety of issues. The main topic has been how to divide revenues -- $9.3 billion last year -- and league owners were briefed this week on a plan that would give the players just under 50 percent of total income. An off-the-top expense credit of about $1 billion that went to the owners would be eliminated.

Players believe they can justify a 48 percent take because of the projected revenue growth, as well as built-in mechanisms that require teams to spend close to 100 percent of the salary cap, a source told ESPN.com's John Clayton. The mandatory minimum spending increase is an element that concerns lower-revenue clubs, sources say.

For example, if the 2011 salary cap is determined to be $120 million, a team would have to have a cash payroll of close to that amount. In the previous collective bargaining agreement, the team payroll floor was less than 90 percent of the salary cap and was only in cap figures, not cash.

Among the topics that have not been on the front burner but are now being discussed are a rookie wage scale and a more specific breakdown of benefits for retired players.

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay has become the point person for the NFL in discussions with the NFLPA on how the two sides should structure rookie salaries.

Also being discussed are a rookie wage scale and a more specific breakdown of benefits for retired players.

A lengthy new CBA -- between six and eight years, for example -- would enable the league to turn to its broadcast partners and negotiate more lucrative contracts.

"It is extremely complicated, it requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but we're committed to getting something done and we're going to keep working at it," Smith added.

One item that has the players' support is a salary floor keeping teams within 90 percent of the cap. Recently, particularly in 2010 when there was no cap, several teams whose revenue streams don't match up with the richer clubs did not spend anywhere near what those teams did.

The proposal would require the full salary cap spending to be in cash.

"Through our player reps, things sound really good," Rams wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "From the players' perspective, we're kind of set with what we want.

"We pretty much agreed to what our (players association) was fighting for on our behalf. It sounds like a lot of what we asked for, apart from the finances, they've been able to agree upon. At that point, we're just kind of waiting to get the final say-so and just roll it out ..."

As the negotiating teams for owners and players continue to work on a long-term economic model, a number of ancillary issues are being discussed, including a short-term idea that would allow teams to exercise three right-of-first-refusals on their own free agents for this year only, according to sources.

A right-of-first-refusal option would allow teams to match any offer that its free agent player signs with another club; in essence, operating under the "transaction" tag model in the previous collective bargaining agreement. It would seem to be an unlikely provision the players would agree to, inasmuch many of the fourth-and-fifth year free agents were unable to enjoy unrestricted free agency in 2010 under the rules of an uncapped year.

There even has been some disapproval from a handful of clubs that have aggressive plans to pursue some of the estimated 500 unrestricted free agents. Clubs often have resisted signing players that give the original club an opportunity to match the contract.

Some teams believe that the short football calendar caused by the lockout needs such a concept -- according to one team executive, NFL teams average 15.5 free agents and have had no opportunity to negotiate with their own players because of lockout rules and the pre-lockout uncertainty of 2011 salary cap figures.

One solution that has been discussed would allow teams to have an exclusive three-to-five day negotiation window with its own unsigned players before free agency commences.

A new agreement will return to free agency norms prior to 2010 -- players without contracts who have four minimum years in the league will become unrestricted agents.

In Wednesday's negotiations, Goodell and his negotiating team were able to share some of the feedback from Tuesday's Chicago owners' meetings with Smith and his team -- specifically the owners' response to the framework of a new deal presented by Goodell.

Smith scheduled a noon ET conference call with team player representatives to update them on where the talks stand, one of the player reps told ESPN. It is not known yet what message Smith delivered to the players.

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, sources familiar with the talks told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Certain tags will be retained, but that still is being discussed.

Thursday is Day 100 of the lockout, which is the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 and the longest in league history.

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.