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NFL, players nearing deal? There's reason for optimism

The drumbeat of an NFL labor resolution grew louder Tuesday as rumblings of a deal -- or at least the framework of one -- could be reached within the next month. That would avert the disastrous possibility of games being canceled for the first time since 1987.

The league and players continued their talks before a mediator Tuesday and Wednesday in an undisclosed location in Maryland, just outside of Washington, and signs are that the sides have gotten past the rhetoric and are gaining traction on real progress.

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Lending credence to that belief is that lawyers from both sides have been reintroduced to the talks, possibly indicating the specifics of a deal are being constructed.

According to an individual very familiar with the negotiations, many owners are feeling more encouraged that a deal is within reach than they have been at any other time throughout the process.

The threat of losing at least one preseason game is a strong incentive, the individual said, adding: "Once you start losing those, you start getting real revenue loss, and once you get that, there's less money to put on the table."

At the moment, the lockout remains in place while the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals considers deliberating on the NFL's June 2 appeal of a district court ruling ordering the lockout be lifted.

NFL owners are scheduled to convene in Chicago next Tuesday to be updated on the finer points of the negotiations.

Although the original plan called for a one-day meeting, the league has advised owners to pack for an overnight stay, a tidbit first reported by ESPN. That has tea-leaf readers reasoning it's more fodder to believe a deal -- requiring a three-quarters-majority vote of ownership -- is on the horizon.

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