Rookie pay, free agency holding up NFL labor deal

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NEW YORK - A rookie wage scale and free agency for veterans appear to be the biggest 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 off-season workouts and the length of a new collective bargaining agreement are close to being completed.

Owners and players are to meet again, beginning Tuesday, after two days of long negotiations last week. Lawyers from both sides are to meet today.

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 without a disruption to the preseason. With court-appointed mediator Arthur Boylan on vacation this week, the two sides plan to negotiate in New York, where last Friday talks were slowed by differences over the rookie wage scale and guidelines for unrestricted free agents.

NFL owners want to restrict the bonuses and salaries paid to unproven rookies, particularly those selected high in the draft.

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.

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.

Who pays how much to a so-called "legacy fund" to help retired players has become somewhat contentious.

Originally, the funding was to be 50-50 between the owners and the players. There has been no agreement yet on that breakdown.


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