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“As a veteran and lifetime fan of professional football, I have experienced the business with uncertainty firsthand,” said Seattle running back/kick returner Leon Washington, who agreed to a new four-year contract two weeks ago. “I feel for the coaches, and facility and stadium employees as their lives could be affected. … With all this being said, I’m optimistic that there will be football played in 2011.”

The owners begin their usual planning for the next season with their annual meetings in New Orleans starting next Sunday. Not that anything is normal about this offseason.

Still, they will hear from the competition committee, which has been meeting on potential rules changes, and will get reports from a variety of other committees. That includes the labor committee that failed to reach agreement with the players.

And the owners also will plot strategy, knowing very well that corporate and broadcast partners and sponsors already are making plans for their late summer and fall spending.

For the next few weeks, fans can get their fill with the NFL draft, a cottage industry unto itself. While fans focus on pro days and workouts for college players headed into the April 28-30 draft, the business side of the game will hunker down in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where Brady and his peers brought their lawsuit.

After that, barring court decisions that force some movement, it will be time to get nervous, if not panicky.

“We definitely will not see a deal reached before seeing some of these rulings from the courts,” Roberts said. “Neither sides know what their risks are until the court rules.

“As for when the parties begin to feel the heat sufficiently to do a deal, we can’t predict. Again, my guess is won’t see a deal done before August or September.”