Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning released a statement today urging a deal in the NFL's long-running lockout. Along with being three of the most prominent names in the league, they are all named plaintiffs in the players' anti-trust suit against NFL owners.
"We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done. 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," read the statement, first released to the Associated Press.
The fact that such prominent players, so closely tied to the NFLPA, are talking deal is a clear sign that an agreement is within striking distance (to steal a favorite Andy Reid-ism).
But it doesn't necessarily mean it's imminent. This statement, coming with names attached, not from anonymous sources, puts some public pressure back on owners. Note that the quarterback triumvirate say that the players' proposal is a fair one. That's a not-very subtle way of saying "we've made a good offer, it's time for the other side to make some concessions to close the final gap."
UPDATE2: The league responded with a similar statement:
“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. We are working hard with the players’ negotiating team every day so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players’ negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."
Earlier this week there were players casting doubt about how close a deal was -- a sign that they were not yet happy with what was on the table, despite anonymous sources saying an agreement was close.
But overall, on the record talk of a deal from plaintiffs with real power to settle the dispute is a positive sign: they wouldn't be talking deal if one wasn't within sight. The league seems to agree that something is close.
UPDATE1: Soon after the initial post came word that Brees will join the labor talks Thursday. His arrival seems like another indication that a possible endgame is near.