A growing sense of optimism was squashed late today when NFL players ended meetings in Washington without voting on a new collective bargaining agreement. However, the players did vote conditionally in favor of a settlement, pending reconstitution of the players’ association, the results of ongoing lawsuits and the resolution of other outstanding issues.

Essentially, the players aren’t prepared to commit formally until unsettled lawsuits have been put to sleep. They’ve reportedly left DeMaurice Smith and the executive committee with hypothetical terms that would meet their expectations and will have a chance to cast formal votes via conference call whenever necessary.

That doesn’t mean this won’t be wrapped up this week, but it’s at least a small speed bump in a process that has been dominated by larger ones. And although the glass-half-full explanation – alluded to here by a FoxSports source — is that the players simply didn’t have enough time to work through the details today, some players are making disconcerting statements about having “a lot of work to do” due to “unresolved issues.”

To boot, Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal reports that “several outstanding issues need to be resolved before there is a deal” while a source tells Newsday’s Bob Glauber that negotiations are still needed on “lawsuit settlement issues.” (NFL general counsel Jeff Pash has confirmed that there are still issues to negotiate.)

“Hold on,” the source told Glauber. “It might be a bit bumpy.”

So there’s a chance Thursday will be the most important day of this entire mess. That’s because the owners are already together in Atlanta, awaiting a forwarded settlement from the players and preparing to vote to ratify a new deal. If everything goes right, both sides will vote in favor of a new agreement tomorrow.

But when was the last time during this process that everything went right?

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