EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an e-mail sent to fans across the country on Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell vowed that the players and the owners would be able to reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Steve Tisch and John Mara, the co-owners of the New York Giants, however, remain uncertain as a potential lockout looms on the horizon.
"I think I share my concerns with the 31 other owners, hundreds of players and millions of fans," Tisch said Monday afternoon at his team's practice facility as players cleaned out their lockers after missing the playoffs despite compiling a 10-6 record. "Discussions and conversations are being had with some frequency. ... I do think there will be a deal. I just can't stand here and tell you when that deal's gonna be closed and signed. But I think a lot of people are working very hard and taking the issue very, very seriously."
"Nobody wants to see a locked out season," Tisch added. "Especially the fans, the ownership and the players."
"It's hard to say [if a deal is going to be reached]," Mara said. "It really is. I have a history with labor negotiations and you just never know.
"Sometimes it happens all of a sudden. Sometimes it drags on for months."
The Giants currently have 21 players that are not under contract for 2011. And those players, according to Mara, are going to have to wait to see how the CBA negotiations are resolved until they can proceed with their own contract negotiations.
"Well until we know what the rules are gonna be and what the salary cap is -- if in fact there is a salary cap -- it's pretty difficult to make decisions on free agents," Mara said. "I believe you can [sign players without a deal in place], but again until you know what the rules are and what the cap is it's gonna be pretty difficult to do that."
Giants general manager Jerry Reese is making plans for whatever happens.
"The CBA is what it is," he said. "We're hopeful that a lot of things are going to be resolved and we have contingency plans if there is a strike or a lockout. We'll be ready either way. I talked to all of our potential unrestricted free agents this morning and everybody has got a good attitude about it and we'll see after we know what the new agreement is and we'll move forward and who to sign and who not to sign. Obviously there will be changes, like every year, so we'll move forward and see what happens."
Reese echoed Mara's comments, saying that he won't sign anyone without a CBA.
"Nope. It's a hurry up and wait deal," he said. "We've got to see where we are and we're not really sure what we're dealing with right now."
Giants player representative Shaun O'Hara said he's "very optimistic" that a new CBA can be agreed upon before the start of the 2011 season.
"There's obviously a lot of ins and outs, a lot of things that need to be worked on and agreed to," O'Hara said, "but I think it's a good game for everybody. I think we know that. The owners know that. Really, it's just up to everybody to not mess it up. This doesn't have to be an ugly thing. This can be done the right way for everybody."
The two sides currently remain at an impasse regarding major issues such as revenue sharing, an 18-game season and a change in the rookie contract scale. O'Hara was asked if he believes the negotiations have gotten ugly.
"It doesn't seem ugly," O'Hara said. "It's negotiations. People wanna say Derek Jeter's negotiations were ugly. But that's business. It's hard for fans to separate the business part from the game. And it's hard for players to do that even -- for our own contracts. This is no different. There's a business side of the game. A very wealthy business at that. And there's a right way to do things."
O'Hara said that during his 11-year career, this is probably "the most unified" he's ever seen the players.
"I've been a player rep since 2003 and I remember chasing guys around the locker room and the media rooms trying to tell them you gotta do this and you gotta do that," O'Hara said. "And you know what? Nobody had any time for it. Nobody cared. But now, when they're facing a lockout and you have people telling you you can't come to work and you can't go to the job you've been doing and you can't make money for your family ... people will pay attention.
"I've spent more time this year talking to guys and answering questions. I haven't had to chase anyone around. People are coming to me. At least a couple times a week there's someone standing at my locker waiting to ask a question.
"I feel like we're extremely unified and that's good ... but again this is different -- it's a lockout, not a strike. We're being told that we can't come to work. The best thing we've done so far is to just prepare and understand what's going on."
In his e-mail to fans, Goodell wrote: "I know we can and will reach an agreement. My goal as commissioner now is to help our teams and players find a solution that is fair to everyone and ensures that football becomes more popular, accessible, and fun. We want the next decade to be the best yet for our fans, and I'm ready to work day and night to make that happen."
The current CBA went into effect for the 2006 season, but the owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008 that ends the deal after this season, saying they can't afford the current system. The players say the league is healthy, thanks to billions of dollars in TV deals, solid attendance, profitable marketing partnerships and overseas interest.
The NFL has not missed games because of labor problems since 1987, when the players went on strike. But the union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has said he believes owners are preparing for a lockout this time.
"There will be football," said the Giants' Keith Bulluck, one of the impending free agents. "When it starts, we don't know. But there will definitely be football. I think America would be empty without football. It's just about football itself. It's about what it brings to people's homes in America every Sunday. Monday night. Thanksgiving. It's part of American society, so if you take football away, it's really about dollars and cents right now, but America would be empty."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.