Most critical day in NFL talks is here

After 127 days of an NFL lockout, another 24 hours without a tentative labor agreement isn’t going to make a major difference.

But if there isn’t a new collective bargaining agreement in place by the weekend, the work stoppage could continue for plenty more days, weeks and — heaven forbid — months to come.

That’s what makes Thursday the most important date yet in this ongoing saga. Although there was initial optimism that ballots would be cast, NFL Players Association representatives didn’t vote on the CBA proposal during a Wednesday meeting in Washington, DC. The Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit that must be dropped for a finalized labor pact also remains on the books.

NFL and NFLPA representatives continued to speak into Wednesday night trying to resolve the remaining issues impeding the CBA’s passage. Players left the NFLPA meeting wanting time to study the proposal before signing off on the deal.

As one source told FOXSports.com, “That’s a lot of stuff to digest in one afternoon.”

Maybe so, but those player reps had better swallow hard. The moment of reckoning has arrived. The haggling must stop or all the negotiating progress made in the past two months could unravel.

One preseason game — the annual league-opening Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between St. Louis and Chicago — likely will be canceled if an agreement isn’t tentatively agreed upon by the end of Friday. NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash wouldn’t give an exact date for such a decision but admitted Wednesday that “it’s getting pretty tight.”

Other exhibition cancellations could soon follow. If the entire slate of preseason games were shuttered, there would be an estimated $800 million revenue loss. That would change the NFL’s economic model for the 2011 season and potentially force both sides back to the drawing board.

Pash said he hopes the NFLPA conducts its vote Thursday morning, but another league official cautioned the process could extend into the evening. NFL owners have gathered in Atlanta for the same voting purpose. A slew of general managers and personnel executives also are coming for a seminar on how the new CBA will affect player signings and the like.

After a lengthy Wednesday meeting involving the NFL’s labor committee and high-ranking league officials, Pash was asked his level of optimism about a CBA getting done.

“Cautious. It’s cautious. But I think we’re making progress,” he said. “I think we’ve worked well together over the past several weeks. The staffs and attorneys have been making a lot of progress on the documentation and language issues that have obviously complicated the agreement. But I think both sides are at the point where they can close, they should close and we should be in position to take votes.”

But “can” and” should” doesn’t mean all this will happen. That’s something the NFL and NFLPA already have proved — after more than four months of wrangling about how to split record-setting revenue projections.