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Free agency (and football) happening soon?

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Mediation continues today between the NFL and the NFLPA. There's still a pretty big gulf separating the two sides, but there's a cautious optimism percolating from the chattering classes close to the issue. The current round of mediation faces a Friday deadline, something that could again be extended if progress is made but an agreement is still not done by the end of the week. That means the league year could start later this month, probably not too long after St. Patrick's Day, opening the doors to a rich and full free agency period.

Much work remains, obviously. According to Judy Batista at the New York Times, the two sides would have to spend this week hammering out the necessary details to resume league business, things like the salary cap, free agency rules and that much talked about rookie wage scale. The rookie wage scale has been a contentious issue in the CBA talks. The NFL floated a draconian proposal they refused to budge from in the round of talks immediately following the Super Bowl - the ones with the staged owner walkout - that made it seem as though the two sides had a long way to go before meeting in the middle.

Since then, the union has offered a rookie system that places a cap on the total money available to incoming rookies, allowing individual contract negotiations. That's important because, as you know, not all positions are created, or valued, equally, e.g. the responsibility heaped on a QB picked first overall is different than that of an offensive tackle picked second overall.

Of course, rookie salaries aren't even the biggest issue. Owners and player are still believed to be pretty far apart on revenue sharing - the money owners want to take off the top for operating costs before dividing the rest with players - possibly as much as $750 million apart on the issue.

And there's the 18-game season. Most believe that's a forgone conclusion. I'm not so pessimistic, a rarity, but we'll just have to stay tuned on that issue. For now, let's just hope that reports of progress are real and that we'll be talking in real time, about free agents in about 10 days from now.