The NFL and players groups have agreed to meetings during the next four days in Minnesota -- with a twist.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and his staff will meet without players or owners there.
This will be the fifth round of "secret talks" between the players and the league.
Minnesota is home to Arthur Boylan, the U.S. magistrate judge assigned to run court-ordered mediation and who has been present for the previous talks. Constants in the room during past talks have been Goodell, Smith, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, New York Giants owner John Mara, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday.
Progress was made in the four other sessions in four different locations -- suburban Chicago, New York's Long Island, Maryland's Eastern Shore and suburban Boston -- but significant work must be done before the parties can strike a deal. Talks are expected to continue into next month, and time is of the essence. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, the participants in this year's scheduled Hall of Fame Game, are set to open training camp just three weeks from Friday.
Some internal deadlines have July 15 as the date a labor deal needs to be done to save the preseason in its natural form. The NFL lockout is in its fourth month.
The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7, are set to open training camp three weeks from Friday.
The parties broached the rookie pay system last week for the first time during these clandestine sessions, and it proved to be a difficult area to navigate. Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, received about $50 million guaranteed in his rookie deal, and the owners have long looked to drastically mark down those type of price tags.
But the numbers aren't the only issues. Among the players' concerns are finding a way to replace the effect such contracts have on the veteran market and also get those high picks to free agency quicker (as it stands, six-year contracts are allowable for the high first-round picks making big money).
The sides have largely spent the last four weeks discussing the revenue split, an issue that dwarfs all others. And it's not just the revenue now, but also how to account for the league's future growth, particularly when the 2014 television deals are done.