Despite near-meltdowns, the general feeling is that NFL owners and players will reach a deal relatively soon, in enough time to have free agency, training camp and the preseason. However, the St. Louis Rams' appearance in the August 7 Hall of Fame Game might not happen according to all but the most optimistic, realistic timelines for a new labor deal.
The Hall of Fame Game, the earliest exhibition game timed to coincide with the induction of the current year's class, is just 50 days away. The Rams play the Chicago Bears in that game, celebrating team HOF inductees, including Marshall Faulk. Being optimistic, using this timeline from PFT that assumes a deal gets announced on June 30 and business opens on Friday, July 8, that leaves the Rams a little less than two weeks to do the bulk of their free agent shopping before training camp opens.
Remember, the Rams open training camp about a week earlier than usual because of the Hall of Fame Game, probably around Thursday, July 21, or the next day. Obviously, the Rams were going to have a short time, two weeks, to get prepped for that game anyway, and it stands to reason that they could still play regardless of whether or not they're done with their free agent signings. Those usually take place right up until the beginning of the season as roster cuts happen anyway.
If a deal doesn't get announced until July, even early July, that would cut it awfully close to the Hall of Fame Game. It seems like the NFL would be unlikely to so easily surrender an early opportunity to make money, even just a little bit.
Speaking of free agency, we still don't know how a new deal will treat free agents, i.e. whether or not four-year guys will still be eligible for unrestricted free agency (if I were the owners, I'd try to go for five years in exchange for those big givebacks on revenues). Most are assuming that four-year players will be free agents. Add to that the talk that teams will be required to spend 90 percent of their salary cap, and this short free agent signing period could be a real orgy of cash.
Don't get too carried away. Teams still have roster limitations and future contract considerations to think about, like when the Rams are looking at Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Bradley Fletcher reaching free agency in the same year, 2013.