- Associated Press - Sunday, July 10, 2011

NEW YORK — A rookie wage scale and free agency for veterans appear to be the biggest stumbling blocks to ending the NFL lockout.

Several people with knowledge of the talks tell the Associated Press that such key issues as splitting total revenues — the major reason for the dispute — the salary cap, fewer offseason workouts and the length of a new collective bargaining agreement are close to being completed.

The people spoke anonymously because details are supposed to remain private.

Owners and players are preparing to meet again this week after two days of long negotiations last week. The sticky topics include limits on rookie salaries and signing bonuses. Another is the number of transition tags for free agents, with right of first refusal.

With training camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks for some teams, time is growing short to reach an agreement to end the nearly four-month lockout. With court-appointed mediator Arthur Boylan on vacation this week, the two sides plan to negotiate in New York, where recent talks were slowed by differences over the rookie wage scale and guidelines for unrestricted free agents.

NFL owners have long sought to restrict the huge bonuses and salaries paid to unproven rookies, particularly those selected high in the draft. Quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2010 top overall pick by St. Louis, signed a six-year, $78 million contract that included a record $50 million guaranteed.

The NFLPA insists that money diverted from the rookies go to veteran players; some also would go for retired players’ benefits. The main disagreement right now is how deep into the first round the rookie wage scale would apply, perhaps eight picks, perhaps twice that many. Some owners also are seeking longer contracts for rookies.

In addition, the owners are pushing for more restrictions in free agency, which the players “vehemently oppose,” one of the people familiar with the negotiations said.

“Maybe for one year there might be an extended right of first refusal as a compromise,” the person said.

Would either side hold up a deal over that, especially with the possibility of lost exhibition games no longer remote? NFL revenues would be reduced by upward of $60 million for one weekend of canceled preseason games. The first full weekend of preseason play is Aug. 11-15; the Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams is Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

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