Inside the super duper not-so-secret meetings, jokes are exchanged, when threats were before. Handshakes are commonplace. So are smiles and chit chat: How’s the wife? How’s the kids? Good to hear. Tell them I said, Hi.

These are the new owners and player meetings that are now apparently moving faster than light speed with a great sense of politeness toward a collective bargaining agreement. The usual cautious caveats apply, but it’s crystal clear now: the bullet train is headed toward a deal and the only thing that can stop it is last-minute, rampant stupidity. That likely won’t happen.

One source with intimate knowledge of the discussions tells me negotiations are 80-85 percent complete. They’ve made such fast progress, I’m told, it’s catching many of the principals by surprise. Some are now canceling vacations, believing an agreement will be reached within a matter of days.

Basically, it seems, we continue to move solidly into that threshold where a season will be played, not if one will be played. Again, barring the knucklehead factor.

“It’s going to be very difficult for this to get screwed up,” the source said.

That doesn’t mean the negotiations can’t revert back to the primordial days of disgust and hatred, or that the talks can’t implode. It does mean, however, that the discussions are in such a good place it would be difficult for even the most selfish, destructive personality to affect them.

No one will go into specifics about what concessions are being made. What is being said is that both owners and players are making major ones and that has greased the CBA skids.

“I think all the players want to do is get back on the field,” Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe told me. “I think owners have a vested interest in getting this done as well.”

The tone of the meetings has taken such a dramatic turn it has indeed been like a different set of gatherings. The players, I’m told, had no trust in anything ownership said during the initial mediation sessions but that has completely changed. Different proposals are exchanged almost daily. The two sides are, well, finally and heartily negotiating.

In addition to the previously reported dinner involving trade association head DeMaurice Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, several owners and players have had private lunches together. These smaller, informal meetings also have helped.

I’ve confirmed that lawyers for both sides have returned to the negotiating table after being kicked out of the room for weeks. Their return is another sign of good news since the talks are now getting more specific. Hopefully, the lawyers won’t torpedo progress.

One person tells the story of how he saw more smiles in one recent negotiation than he had in almost all of the mediation sessions in Washington combined.

If a deal is soon struck, more smiles will follow.


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