New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees says an NFL labor settlement… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
Reporting from Stateline, Nev. — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo stepped off the golf course Wednesday and, when asked about progress on a new NFL labor deal, essentially characterized it as a "gimme putt."
"I think it will be done here shortly," Romo said after a practice round for this weekend's American Century Golf Championship in South Lake Tahoe. "I think the two sides are close, and it's just a matter of doing the things you need to do to end it. The players are anxious and ready, and I think the owners are as well to get this season started."
One by one, all the weather vanes are pointing toward the bitter labor battle ending soon, in time for the start of training camps at the end of the month. NFL owners will convene for a one-day meeting in Atlanta next Thursday, with the optimistic read being it would give them an opportunity to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement, which would require a three-quarters majority vote of the 32 teams.
An even stronger indicator came earlier Wednesday when New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, among the most strident advocates of taking a hard-line stance against the owners, said a deal was within reach.
"We're very close to a settlement," Brees said in an interview with 1090 radio in San Diego. "We're at that point in the negotiations where there's just a few more details that need to be ironed out."
Four months ago, when negotiations between the sides broke down and the union decertified, Brees called the owners' offer at the time "all a front" and said they "had no real intent to get a deal done."
He sounded far more encouraged in Wednesday's radio interview, saying: "Obviously there's a big sense of urgency, especially in the next week with the owners scheduled to meet July 21. I think we're all optimistic and hoping we can finalize a deal for that time."
Also Wednesday, Brees and two fellow named plaintiffs, quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, released a joint statement saying they are ready to make a deal.
"We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to make a deal," the players' statement read. "This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."
In the radio interview, Brees said the latest proposal represents "a significant setback" in players' share of overall revenue.
In a written statement, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded: "We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season."
Negotiations between owners and players continued in New York on Wednesday, with the particulars of a rookie wage scale still an apparent sticking point. Brees told the San Diego station that if owners are going to cut rookie salaries they need to spread that money among seasoned players.
"If their salaries are cut, where does that money go?" he said. "Our standpoint is if that money is taken away from the rookies, it needs to go to the veteran players, proven veterans as well as retired players."
Meanwhile, Romo said he doesn't anticipate the months of tension between owners and players will have a lasting effect.
"I don't know there's a buddy-buddy relationship between players and owners; everyone understands it's a business," Romo said. "The owners don't get to where they're at without understanding the business, part of the deal. I would suspect there won't be any hard feelings or ill will.
"People say things and do stuff, and then when it gets solved, we know it was part of the process."