Welcome to the 86th day of what is the longest work stoppage in NFL history. I know, it’s painful. But the sense of optimism surrounding the current labor clash might be reaching its highest point yet.

Yesterday, the league and the trade association formerly known as the NFLPA resumed negotiations at an undisclosed location, according to NFL.com’s Albert Breer.

Silence is golden, and the lawyers have been removed from the process — both good signs. And as a result, there’s a “growing sentiment” that something might get done prior to July 4th weekend.

Yet the most important factor in the renewed enthusiasm from both parties is certainly pressure.

The owners and the players are fighting primarily over where to cut the pie. But with each passing day, the pie itself gets smaller. Breer points out that a lost preseason would cost the NFL $1 billion — a number that easily eclipses the gap that separates the two sides in negotiations.

Considering that preseason games will have to be cancelled at some point in July, the owners and players finally see a hard deadline on the labor horizon. If they aren’t able to find a middle ground on where to split revenue in the next six weeks, both parties will suddenly be in a lose-lose situation.

Congratulations, players: You got an extra $300 million back in negotiation in late August, but you lost all of that plus an extra $200 million because of all the profits forfeited during the time delay. Was it worth it? Is this a battle over principle?

From Breer:

According to sources on each side of the talks, the NFL and players have come to an understanding that the time to bargain seriously is now. And as much as the ongoing litigation has set the calendar thus far, the calendar itself — and the looming mid-summer start of training camps — is starting to overtake the litigation as a motivator to move the talks along.

One league source estimated that it would take 4-6 weeks to go from serious negotiations to the drafting process, and a trade association source said the feeling is there is a 30-day window that’s just now opening to get a deal done.

There’s also increased pressure on both sides due to the fact that neither knows how much leverage they have. A somewhat cryptic warning from a three-judge panel at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals may have adequately scared the hell out of both sides: Judge Kermit Bye suggested that the parties return to negotiation immediately because a ruling from the bench will be something that “neither side will like.”

“Both sides feel the pressure now,” a league source told Breer. “There’s risk on both sides legally here. Neither side is completely comfortable with its legal position. So it’s imperative to work now before one side or the other potentially gets the upper hand.”

And that’s why they’re working. This has been an offseason like no other, but there’s still a chance we recover before seeing the game we love suffer a delay that will never be forgotten.

Things are tentatively looking up. In fact, NFL coaches are apparently being encouraged to take their vacation time now because they “expect to be busy in July.”

Wait, that means NFL bloggers will also be busy in July. It’s worth it.