With the NFL closing in on a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, owners and players will return to the negotiating table in a mediation setting on Monday and Tuesday to settle a handful of unresolved issues, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
According to sources, the sides will meet in New York, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan could join them on either day.
Before departing for an overseas vacation on July 9, Boylan ordered a mediation session in Minneapolis on Tuesday. It had appeared that the mediation session would be canceled after the progress made in New York on Thursday and Friday, but sources say the hope is that mediation will nudge the two sides to a final agreement in time for the players to vote to recertify as a union and approve an agreement Wednesday.
Under that scenario, the owners would ratify the new CBA on Thursday at the league meetings in Atlanta. According to sources, the two sides also could use Wednesday morning to finish their mediated negotiation session, if necessary.
The outstanding unresolved issues, according to sources:
• Players want restoration of $320 million in lost benefits from the 2010 uncapped season.
• Players want to limit use of the franchise tag on unrestricted free agents to a one-time application. Previously, teams could use the franchise tag on a player on three separate occasions with significant increases on one-year guaranteed salaries for every additional year that the player was tagged.
• Settlement of the Brady antitrust lawsuit involving 10 named plaintiffs. The limit of franchise tags on all players could be the anchor to the settlement. That would result in named plaintiffs such as Drew Brees, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson not being subject to any free agent restrictions in 2012 if their respective teams do not sign them to long-term contracts.
Sources familiar with the process told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Sunday that the NFLPA has begun to contact some of the 10 plaintiffs regarding settling the antitrust suit.
• Workman's compensation. It has been an underpublicized and complex issue for the owners that has resulted in numerous lawsuits. Owners want players to file for workman's comp benefits in the state in which they played, if they suffered an injury. Currently, players have used California as a filing base if they can prove they suffered any injury during their career while playing in that state.
• Settlement of the television damages case stemming from U.S. District Judge David Doty's ruling that owners did not act in the best interests of players as directed by the previous CBA in creating "lockout insurance." The players have asked Doty to place $4 billion in escrow until the lockout is resolved but Doty has not ruled. It is possible the players will use this leverage to gain the $320 million in restoration of lost benefits from 2010.
Under a ratified agreement, teams would have an exclusive 72-hour window to negotiate contracts with their own free agents Friday before those players hit the open market at the start of league-wide free agency on July 25th.
One key concession made by the owners will effectively eliminate two-a-day practices during training camp as a health and safety issue that players termed critical to an agreement, the sources said. Teams will be allowed to have some helmetless and padless non-contact walk-through practices in lieu of a second training camp practice on the same day.
According to sources, teams will also reduce offseason workouts from 14 on-field organized team activities (practices) to nine. Six of those nine practices must be helmetless. Players also will not be subject to reporting for offseason work with coaches until May 1, although one source said that date could be in mid-April. Previously, players could work with coaches beginning in March. March 15 was the designated date in 2011 before the lockout went into effect March 13.
Under the proposed 10-year CBA, players would get a split ranging from 48 to 46.5 percent of a simplified all-revenue model, the sources said. The lower 46.5 percentage would represent an increase in total dollars as revenues grow from new television contracts, as well as allowing credits if three new stadiums are constructed, including one in Los Angeles, where the NFL has not had a team since the 1994 season.
Talks had stalled last week before, according to sources, the sides reached agreement on both a rookie wage system and salary cap on Thursday and free agency rules for 2011 on Friday.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, a key member of the players' side in the talks, commented on the lengthy negotiations on his Twitter account Saturday night.
Foxworth wrote: "What a long busy week. I'm so tired. I need my daughter to take a nap so I can."
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.