Independence Day marked the 111th day of the NFL lockout. On Tuesday, the NFL's owners and players are scheduled to resume negotiations in New York as the sides try to come to an agreement to end the longest work stoppage in league history.
Based on some progress made last week in a critical negotiating session in Minneapolis, there is hope heading into this critical week. Owners and players are getting closer when it comes to agreeing on the division of revenue, sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton.
With Chief Magistrate Arthur Boylan stressing urgency in mediation, the percentage of revenues offered by the owners, according to sources, rose to around 46 percent.
Last Thursday, player sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that last week's talks were trending "backwards" as owners reneged on a simplified formula that would have given players 48 percent of all revenue. However, talks continued between the two sides late into the night and resumed again Friday before the sides ended talks before the holiday weekend.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith, their colleagues and constituents all appeared in good spirits Friday as they left the office building where they met and either walked away or climbed into black cars waiting by the doors.
"We'll continue to meet next week, and the goal is to get a deal done," Smith said on his way out.
The two sides have been trying to figure out how to agree on the division of revenues for this $9 billion business that has steadily grown in popularity, power and wealth over the last couple of decades as the NFL has become the nation's dominant pro sports league.
The revenue split, a major sticking point all along and particularly over the last couple of weeks, is considered a domino that must fall for a deal to get done.
Another major sticking point has been the union attorney's back and forth about something the two sides created called the "legacy fund," a source familiar with the talks told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
One of the league's first proposals to the players called for the establishment of a new legacy fund for retired players, which would include $82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years.
Smith's idea, which the NFL agreed to, called for the league to share the funding with the players on a 50-50 basis. But the union lawyers backed away and said the owners should fund Smith's idea with no effect on the cap -- meaning no player contribution.
The key economic issues cannot be resolved until this one is.
Training camps start at the end of the month, with the preseason-opening Hall of Fame game scheduled Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams. Even missing an exhibition game or two would begin to really cost the league money, not to mention testing the faith of the fans that have made this sport so big.
There also is the wild card of a pending ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league, which was filed in Minneapolis and prompted Boylan's involvement as a mediator.
The appellate judges won't wait forever, and one of them warned earlier that neither side will like their decision on the legality of the lockout. But a faction on the players' side believes it's worth waiting on the court's ruling, and the owners have had plans in place for years to endure an extended work stoppage.
Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and The Associated Press was used in this report.