NEW YORK -- The NFL lockout reached the four-month mark on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the heat was turned up on the owners and players to put an end to the work stoppage as they returned to negotiations in Manhattan.
The three most prominent plaintiffs on the pending litigation against the NFL, and three of the league's most recognizable stars -- quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning -- released a joint statement on Wednesday morning backing their negotiating team's position and imploring that a deal be reached soon.
"We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done," the statement read. "This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."
The league issued a response via a statement: "We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players' negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."
One league source referred to this as "deadline time", when negotiators need to "do what it takes" to close a deal.
With that urgency as the backdrop, the players and owners started this round of talks at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and have firm plans to continue through Thursday. It's likely the sessions will continue into Friday and even the weekend, based on what happens the next two days.
Representing the NFL are Commissioner Roger Goodell and a majority of the 10-man labor committee -- Carolina Panthers owner/committee chair Jerry Richardson, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, New York Giants owner John Mara, and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II.
The players group includes NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and general counsel Richard Berthelsen, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, and retirees Sean Morey, Don Davis and Pete Kendall.
All of the individuals above have been involved in the process since pre-lockout negotiations in Washington. One new face on Wednesday was Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo, who will help represent the interests of the hundreds of pending free agents who will be affected by the rules that will govern the post-lockout weeks.
The parties have been ordered to meet at the chambers of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan next Tuesday, with counsel and figures carrying "full settlement authority" in attendance. The hope is that an agreement in principle will have been reached by then and the process of settling the outstanding litigation can begin.
To that end, the plaintiffs in the Brady et al v. National Football League et al antitrust case took part in a conference call on Tuesday afternoon.
It is worth noting last week's meetings between players and owners did not end well, and there is still plenty of ground to cover.
The players and owners had a tough day of negotiations last Thursday, followed by a Friday session in which almost no progress was made. At the heart of the stalemate was the rookie wage issue, but that isn't the only outstanding problem to be solved.
Some internal deadlines have set July 15 -- this Friday -- as the date an agreement needs to be in place in order to save the preseason in its natural form. The Rams and Bears are scheduled to open their training camps at the end of next week, though that seems unrealistic at this point.
The Hall of Fame Game between St. Louis and Chicago, however, has not yet been cancelled. That game, the first on the preseason ledger, is scheduled for Aug. 7.