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Agreement on rookie wage scale and 2011 salary cap reportedly reached

Adam Schefter is reporting that the players and owners have agreed upon a new rookie wage scale and are one step closer to reaching a new CBA. According to John Clayton, all first-round picks would receive four-year rookie contracts with fifth-year options which teams would be able to exercise following the players' third and fourth seasons.

Although the two sides were not previously scheduled to meet tomorrow, they are now expected to continue their talks late into the night and reconvene tomorrow. The issues yet to be resolved include workers' comp, settlement of the TV damages suit and the Brady suit, and the extra rights of first refusal owners are seeking to help them retain free agents this year. According to ESPN's report, the owners are (of course) asking that the players recertify their union and omit judicial oversight from future labor disputes.

UPDATE 9:50PM ET - Clayton is now reporting that the two sides have agreed to set the 2011 salary cap at $120 million with a salary floor close to 100 percent of that number, while Sal Paolantonio says an agreement is close at hand

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Thomas denies allegations he received improper benefits at GT

Second-year Denver WR Demaryius Thomas, who is rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon, has denied an allegation that he received $312 worth of clothing from a sports agency employee in 2009 while a member of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. GT vacated its 2009 ACC football championship game victory, was fined $100K and its football and men's hoops programs were placed on probation until July of 2015 for failing to cooperate with the NCAA in its investigation of the school. Thomas, a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2010, disputed the validity of the report in a text message to the DP. The NCAA said that GT should have declared (Thomas) ineligible for its final three games in 2009, including its ACC title game victory over Clemson and Orange Bowl loss to Iowa.

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Eighth Circuit rules that lockout is legal

UPDATE 12:37PM ET - The NFL and NFLPA have issued a joint statement regarding the Eighth Circuit's decision:

While we respect the court's decision, today's ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation. We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come and allow for a full 2011 season.

Original Entry 11:37AM ET - The Eighth Circuit of Appeals has overturned Judge Susan Nelson's earlier injunction which had temporarily lifted the NFL lockout. As with the earlier temporary stay of Judge Nelson's injunction, Judge Kermit Bye stands alone as the opposing voice in the decision while his two colleagues ruled that the NFL's work stoppage had arisen out of a labor dispute and thus was protected by the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

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Labor talks reportedly take turn for worse

According to Chris Mortensen and Mike Freeman, the CBA talks have regressed as the owners have apparently gone back to "playing games" by reneging on the reported agreement to give the players a flat 48% of all revenue. Reportedly, the owners have gone back to requesting an expense credit off the top amounting to between $400 million and $500 million which would knock the players' cut down to around 45%. Meanwhile, Albert Breer is tweeting that the negotiations are continuing at this hour in Minneapolis:

I've heard the cries for weeks now -- "Why aren't they locked in a building, 'round the clock?" Looks like people are getting their wish...Big shots arrived at around 9 am CT. All hell broke loose in the 4 o'clock hour with doom and gloom. Almost 9 pm now. They're still meeting...We're past 10 CT ... And they're still meeting. Entering Hour No. 14 of this day's negotiations.

Mike Florio's reaction is that it's about time the two sides burn the midnight oil in pursuit of an agreement, and that perhaps it's time for Judge Doty and the Eighth Circuit judges to issue their rulings and push things along. Finally, Judy Battista is hearing that the two sides are still close enough that a deal could be reached within 72 hours, although a settlement is more likely to stretch another week and a half, if not more.

Smith, Goodell met today sans players, owners

The NFL's labor talks recommenced today in Minnesota and are scheduled to last four days, in what would be the longest negotiating session to date. These meetings are reportedly being conducted solely by Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and their respective legal teams, without the presence of players and owners. The two sides are reportedly focusing now on the potential rookie wage scale and how to ensure that the money previously spent on draft choices would be reallocated to the benefit of veteran players. Meanwhile, Chris Mortensen is reporting that the players and owners involved in the previous talks may rejoin these sessions later in the week, and that player reps would participate in a conference call today to be updated on the negotiations.

Details emerging on framework of new CBA

ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter are reporting that the basis of the next CBA as is presently being negotiated will be a 48% payout of all revenue for the players. This would omit the $1 billion-plus in expense credits that had come off the top before the players got their cut in the previous CBA, and also disinclude the extra $1 billion "haircut" NFL owners had sought earlier on. Apparently, owners will be able to claim expense credits to help pay for new stadiums, but the players' cut would never fall below 46.5 percent of revenue in those instances.

The new deal will reportedly include a new rookie pay scale, but the details of that are still being worked out. Plus, teams will be required to spend to at least 90-93% of the salary cap each year - a stipulation which surely will alarm the smaller market teams like the Bills and Bengals as mentioned in Ted's article earlier today. Among other details, players would reach unrestricted free agency after four seasons and would never be forced to play an 18-game schedule.

UPDATE 7:50PM ET - LJ has an update on the status of the Broncos' potential free agents, and it looks like I erred on Prater and Woodyard - according to LJ, those two players would remain restricted free agents, while Harris and Thomas would be unrestricted. After looking again at each player's profile, I believe Jones' information to be correct and my earlier update to be wrong. Sorry for the confusion, folks.

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Freeman foresees wide support among owners for deal

Hopefully Mike Freeman knows what he's talking about. The bearer of much of the recent positive news surrounding the labor talks has polled his league contacts and found that there are only four owners likely to vote against the new CBA as is being negotiated: Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, Cincy's Mike Brown, Dallas' Jerry Jones and Washington's Daniel Snyder. Naturally, Al Davis falls under the who knows? designation, while Wayne Weaver in Jacksonville is an unknown quantity at this point, as far as Freeman's sources go. A coalition of nine owners would be required to nix any deal, as 24 of 32 votes are necessary for passage; so if Freeman's contacts are correct then things are indeed looking good.

Notice that Freeman writes, "this is how some in football think," rather than the arrogant "most people in the NFL" or "most NFL evaluators" sort of garbage we Broncos fans have been passionately served in recent years...

New labor deal reportedly 80-85 percent complete

Mike Freeman of CBS Sports has more encouraging news on the labor front, as he is reporting that the players and owners have made so much progress in their talks that some involved believe an agreement will be reached in a matter of days. Although Freeman writes that nothing is set in stone, he quotes his source as saying that "It's going to be very difficult for this to get screwed up."

He also writes that the atmosphere of mistrust that had dominated the lockout has all but disappeared, and that in addition to the earlier reported dinner De Smith and Roger Goodell had together, players and owners have been sharing private lunches. Apparently the lawyers for both sides are again involved, but at this juncture it's seen as a positive development indicating that the negotiations are getting down to the details.

MJD and Florio react to Freeman's report.

Players, owners continue to meet

As mentioned in today's Lard, the NFL's owners and players reconvened for more labor negotiations yesterday, this time at a hotel in NYC. The talks are said to be continuing into today, and according to Jason La Canfora, are expected to again stretch for "several days" and featuring the same cast of characters as last week's negotiations (ie. no lawyers save for De Smith). 

Meanwhile, Mike Freeman of CBS wrote this morning that the two sides "continue to close the gap on significant issues and there remains a slim chance a deal is reached before the 8th circuit rules in July." Freeman also writes that he believes the 2011 NFL season "is no longer in jeopardy."

Eighth Circuit hears lockout arguments; owners reportedly making concessions in talks

Mike Freeman of CBS Sports wrote this morning (via PFT) that the NFL's owners have made sizeable concessions this week which have resulted in significant progress toward a resolution. Freeman writes:

My highly educated guess: one of them is the owners continuing to come down significantly from their original demand of taking another $1 billion off the top of player earnings. The players always believed this was an outrageous demand and the players were right.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the two sides appeared in St. Louis today before the Eighth Circuit to argue the validity of the lockout. According to Andrew Brandt, the tenor of the hearing was a direct contrast to that which was presided over by Judge Susan Nelson and resulted in the lockout injunction. Brandt writes that the two Republican-leaning judges appeared to be "empathetic to the Owners' argument" and expects they'll rule in the league's favor.

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