In recent weeks, the tone of the NFL labor dispute has undergone a transformation. Seemingly gone are the days of the two sides waging in a verbal war and trying to win the PR aspect of this issue. The two sides have moved on to working to get a deal done with both secret and not-so-secret meetings where the only official comments have come in the form of joint statements from the owners and NFLPA.
Obviously the increased optimism means nothing until a new CBA is in place, but it may only be a matter of time at this point. From Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel:
"A June 30 or July 4 announcement is a reasonable expectation," the source said. "My sense is that by week’s end they are likely to have some substantial framework if not a complete plan to go back and present to the owners and the players."
And from CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman:
One source with intimate knowledge of the discussions tells me negotiations are 80-85 percent complete. They've made such fast progress, I'm told, it's catching many of the principals by surprise. Some are now canceling vacations, believing an agreement will be reached within a matter of days.
Again, until a new deal is agreed to and approved by both sides, this optimism doesn't mean anything. It is nice that this positive buzz around the labor talks is continuing, though. For the first time since the lockout began there seems to be real hope that a new deal will soon be in place.
A lot of people have figured that it would take missing games -- preseason or otherwise -- to give the two sides a real sense of urgency to get a deal done. Based on the above reports, however, it sounds like it's entirely possible that by July 4 the lockout and this labor strife will be over. If that does indeed happen, the timing would be great. Teams could come back after Independence Day and have a month to take care of free agency and get both players and coaches ready for training camp, which would begin on schedule. No preseason games would even be threatened, and we could all go back to worrying about football and not court battles or a lockout.
For the sake of fans, players, coaches and owners, I really hope this optimism stays on track and by this time next month the lockout is a thing of the past.