We’ve got under 10 hours to go, unless...

We’re a little under 10 hours away from what has looked for weeks to be the inevitable start of an NFL lockout.

All we’ve heard coming out of negotiating sessions between the owners and players’ union is that the two sides were miles apart on all the key issues, and they weren’t close to reaching a new collective bargaining agreement by tonight’s midnight deadline.

Now, out of nowhere, there might be a sliver of optimism coming out of a last-minute negotiating session.

Today’s talks, which were scheduled to end at 1 p.m., are still ongoing, and the owners have reportedly asked for an extension on tonight’s midnight deadline.

This might not mean that a deal will get worked out anytime soon, but it does mean that the owners are taking the deadline seriously, and they feel they’re making enough progress to continue talking.

We’ll know pretty shortly whether the extension is accepted; the union has a 5 p.m. deadline to file for decertification, which would be their first step toward preempting a lockout.

Again, here are the key issues being discussed:

1. How to divide the $9 billion in revenues. The owners want to take out an extra $1 billion for themselves on top of what they took last year before splitting the rest with the players. The players are not big fans of that idea.

2. A rookie wage scale. The sides have discussed limiting the amount paid out to rookies and re-investing some of that money in veteran contracts and benefits given to retired players.

3. An 18-game schedule. The owners want to restructure the season to include two preseason games and 18 regular season games. The players feel that 18 games would take too much of a toll on their bodies and like the schedule the way it is.

It remains to be seen how much progress has actually been made on these (and other) fronts. I’m not quite sure how the sides can go from so far apart to possibly reaching a deal within a couple of days, but an extension would be a positive step.

I’m still not optimistic a deal will get done. The longer these two sides talk, however, the better off they might be.

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