From ESPN online:

NEW YORK -- A source with knowledge of the NFL talks told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Thursday night that the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement are headed toward a settlement.

Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter earlier Thursday evening that the sides had agreed in principle to a rookie wage system and since that is no longer an impediment to a deal, the source told Paolantonio, "both sides are intent on working through each issue line by line to get this deal done."

Another source said that since the rookie wage system was overcome, the progress has been significant with almost unforeseen momentum, surprising even the participants.

With the sides working at a frenzied pace, they reached a tentative agreement to make the 2011 salary cap $120 million, a source told ESPN.com NFL senior writer John Clayton.

Since February, the players have been willing to accept a $141 million player cost number -- which includes both salaries and benefits paid to players -- per team, multiple sources told Clayton. By agreeing to a $120 million cap, the players allow $21 million per team to be in benefits. Now that a cap number has been formed, teams need to determine the minimum cash payroll number, or what teams will be required to spend.

The guaranteed spend forces every team to put up more than 90 percent of the salary cap in cash each season. A couple of weeks ago, the owners talked about having the guaranteed spend number at close to 100 percent of the salary cap, according to sources. That number and percentage could still be adjusted.

The 2009 cap was $123 million, but was moved by $5 million to $128 million due to a one-time adjustment called a cash adjustment mechanism. The change as an aberrational adjustment, due to the fact that 2009 was the last capped season of the previous CBA.

2010 was an uncapped season.

Because a 2011 salary cap of $120 million could cause problems for teams such as Dallas, Pittsburgh and others that currently spend more than that, one of the provisions being discussed is a one-player cap exemption for each team, according to a source. That exemption would be a $3 million credit in 2011 that would count against benefits paid out, a source said. That exemption, which could drop to $1.5 million next year, could save the jobs of players.

The exemption transition would be similar to the minimum salary benefit that allows teams to sign a veteran player to a one-year contract at a greatly reduced cap number. Full details of that option weren't immediately.

The players have been willing to accept a $141 million player cost number per team since February. By agreeing to a $120 million cap, the players are allowing $21 million a team in benefits. Now that a cap number has been formed, both sides are talking about the minimum cash payroll number.

The $120 million cap would represent a decrease of roughly $3 million per team from 2009, which was the last season a salary cap was in place.

Because 2010 was an uncapped year, the $120 million cap could cause problems for teams such as Dallas, Pittsburgh and others that are over the cap. Thus, one of the cap provisions being discussed is giving each team a one-player cap exemption so there isn't a large bloodletting, a source told Clayton. That exemption would be a $3 million charge in 2011 that would count against benefits, and not the actual cap and would save the job of an existing player, a source said. That exemption could drop to $1.5 million in 2012.

The exemption transition would be similar to the minimum salary benefit that allows teams to sign a veteran player to a one-year contract at a greatly reduced cap number.

The owners also talked about the "guaranteed spend" number representing close to 100 percent of the salary cap, multiple sources told Clayton. The "guaranteed spend" is the number that forces every team to put up more than 90 percent of their salary cap in cash each season.

The number and percentage could be adjusted during Thursday night's negotiations.

The work to be done could still scuttle a deal, but that is unlikely, a source told ESPN. A player source told ESPN's Andrew Brandt that the sudden surge in progress is due to a "sense of urgency" arriving in the talks Thursday.

A player source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that talks were beginning to wrap up for the night around 10 p.m. ET "on a positive note." The source said talks are expected to pick up on the same note at 9 a.m. ET on Friday, and NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler told ESPN after Thursday's 13-hour session that the sides could stay through the weekend.

Sources told Mortensen that the two sides continued to work on open issues including workman's compensation, right-of-first-refusals on this year's free agent class, settlement on the television damages and the Brady vs. NFL antitrust case and issues relating to commercial sponsorships.

Additionally, owners want the NFL Players Association to re-certify as a union and settle all grievances through arbitration without judicial oversight. To gain advantages on many of the remaining issues, sources say the players may be willing to grant the owners' request for a comprehensive arbitration system without judicial oversight, a thorn in the owners' side since 1993 on grievance cases that have been appealed to U.S. District Judge David Doty.

In exchange for NFLPA surrendering judicial oversight of the pending agreement, an overhaul of the NFL-NFLPA arbitration system is in the works, sources told Mortensen. It would include a panel of former judges to serve as arbitrators.

Although sources had told Mortensen earlier Thursday that commissioner discipline would be subject to arbitrator appeal, sources said late Thursday night that was now unlikely. However, other matters of discipline, including drug suspensions, will still be subject to review under the proposed system, the sources said. Terms are still being negotiated, according to sources.

The players currently are unwilling to grant NFL teams extra right of first refusals on this year's free agent class, because many of those free agents were restricted under last year's uncapped system. Owners have asked that they have the right to designate three free agents whose contracts with other teams they would have the right to match.

It is now unclear whether the talks will shift to Minneapolis on Monday. Judge Arthur Boylan, the court-ordered mediator who is on vacation in Ireland, has ordered both sides to meet in Minneapolis on Tuesday July 19th. But if the deal is completed, or close to completion, the negotiators may stay in New York at the Manhattan law firm where the complex work is slowly coming to a close.

The rookie wage system had been a key part of that complex work in recent weeks. Exact language of the rookie wage system is being worked out by both sides' lawyers, sources told ESPN's Mortensen, but a management negotiator agreed that the rookie system was "done."

High-level sources had told ESPN.com's Clayton that all first rounders will get four-year deals, plus the option year, under the current proposal. That option could be executed by the team after the third or fourth year of the contract and sources told ESPN's Schefter that the option will become fully guaranteed if it is exercised after the third year.

A large holdup in the talks regarding the rookie pay system had been how to structure that fifth-year option for the contracts of first-round picks. Sources told ESPN on Thursday that the sides agreed to pay the players selected with the top 10 overall picks a salary based off an average of the 10 highest-paid players at their position.

The salary in the option year for the players selected with the 11th through the 32nd overall picks will be based off an average of the third to the 25th highest salaries at each respective position, according to sources.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and eight of the 10 members of the owners' labor committee were present at Thursday's session, including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and John Mara of the New York Giants. Two new participants Thursday were Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos.

NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith and a half-dozen current or former players also were there, including Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora is one of 10 player plaintiffs in a federal antitrust lawsuit against the league.

Sources told ESPN's Mortensen that Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Tyson Clabo, a pending free agent, also is in attendance.

With deadlines coming up next week to get training camps and the preseason started, one owner told ESPN's Paolantonio on Wednesday that owners are trying to figure out how to get the league operational in time "so that we don't lose a week of preseason and we don't lose $200 million."

The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is scheduled for Aug. 7 between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who hope to be able to start training camp at the end of next week.

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN national correspondent Sal Paolantonio, ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN sports business analyst Andrew Brandt and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Article link: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/67...nt-source-says