By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - The National Football League (NFL) moved closer to an agreement with its players on Friday that would end a four-month-old work stoppage and ensure the $9-billion league opens as scheduled in September.
At the end of a week where the often bitter tones of the dispute were replaced by gentle sounds of reconciliation, the league and the players released a joint statement to say they have made progress and will hold talks over the weekend.
"The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues," the two sides said in a joint statement. "Our legal and financial teams will continue to work through the weekend."
The statement said confidentiality agreements restricted their ability to comment on specific areas of the talks but multiple reports have stated the two sides have reached an agreement on key sticking points.
A report on the NFL website headlined "Owners, players reach agreement on economics of labor deal" said an agreement on a rookie compensation system was reached during a 15-hour meeting in New York on Thursday.
Further talks on Friday also brought positive developments and could even be continued over the weekend as the sides work to ensure the 2011 season begins on time.
"Following a breakthrough in negotiations between NFL owners and players it now appears the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement essentially are done," the report of the league's website said.
"A lot of details remain, though it's hard to envision those left standing in the way of a labor deal."
The 32 team owners are due to meet in Atlanta on Thursday and the league would love to present them with an agreement, at least in principal, that they could authorize, paving the way for the formal details to be finalized.
The NFL's on-field events are scheduled to start August 7 with the Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams while pre-season games begin in earnest August 11.
The regular-season opener between the defending champion Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints is scheduled for September 8 with the bulk of teams beginning their seasons on September 11.
Reports said the remaining issues yet to be resolved included retiree benefits, player safety and injury guarantees as well as how to untangle some of the litigation issues that have arisen over the dispute.
ESPN reported that there had been "almost unforeseen momentum" in the talks and that the new collective bargaining agreement would have a lifespan of seven to 10 years.
Collective bargaining talks between the two sides broke down on March 11. The NFL Players Association then decertified itself as a union and nine NFL players, including top quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, filed their lawsuit against the league.
The next day the league locked out the players.
The players had hoped to end the lockout through the courts and were initially successful when a U.S. judge ruled in their favor. But a federal appeals court upheld the lockout.
(Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)