The secret meeting between owners and players in Chicago this week offered the first hope in months that a collective bargaining deal could be reached within a month.
Instead of wasting June waiting for two of three judges in the Eighth Circuit Court to keep the lockout intact, owners reached out last week, according to a source, and asked for this week's meeting. Judge Arthur Boylan came in from Minnesota to mediate the session and officially declared that both sides are in settlement talks.
The timing couldn't be better. Fans have been turned off by the lockout. Worries about ticket sales, sponsorships and viewership have been mounting. Undrafted rookies remain unemployed. Draft choices remain uncoached. Fantasy fans are in fantasy hell waiting for transactions and trends.
You can even see fatigue in some of the player workouts. Michael Vick started working with some of his Philadelphia Eagles teammates, but when he left for his own training in Virginia, the Eagles' workout group thinned down to a handful.
This week's meeting prompted bored front-office execs to start thinking about a return to football sometime after July 4, maybe as soon as July 15.
If that happens, here are the 10 players who are positively affected by a quick settlement.
1. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress: Getting out of prison, Burress needs to find a new football home and a job. Some of his ex-teammates -- Brandon Jacobs and David Diehl -- have publicly said they don't believe the Giants will re-sign him. Someone will. The Eagles and maybe the Washington Redskins could show some interest. Burress has been away from football for two years and needs to get back into football shape. A long lockout would make that tougher. Burress needs time to train with a team so he doesn't show up cold at a training camp and pull a muscle or suffer an injury that would ruin his comeback. (Our NFL Blog Network assesses the possibilities for Burress here.)
2. Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and players with workout bonuses: Ferguson is due a $750,000 workout bonus, but the lockout has taken away all team workouts. If a CBA is reached by July 4, maybe the New York Jets can schedule a minicamp and Ferguson can get his money. If not, he will have to try to file a grievance claiming that the workout bonus was a term of his rookie contract and that the Jets deprived him of the chance to collect that money.
3. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder: Ponder organized a workout for his new Minnesota Vikings teammates in Bradenton, Fla., but most of his key offensive skill players didn't show up. Running back Adrian Peterson was training in Houston. Ponder said Percy Harvin lost his cell phone, so he couldn't be around. Wide receivers Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian didn't show up. Neither did tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. It's not hard to ponder that the rookie quarterback can't get timing down when he can't get together with his offensive weapons. A quick labor resolution gets him together with his teammates.
4. Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco: No. 85 might run out of new sports to conquer. He's tried bull riding. He's considering snake wrangling. He can always go back to boxing. Time is running out for him to lock in a new reality TV show. If that's not bad enough, Ochocinco probably isn't going to be with the Bengals much longer. He would need time to get to a new team and secure a No. 85 jersey. If he can't get No. 85, he might have to change his name.
5. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant: Bryant has hung around some of the Dallas Cowboys' informal team practices, but he needs the structure of organized team activities to keep him from wandering into trouble. Extra time on his hands probably isn't good for Bryant. It's hard enough for coaches to get him to be on time for meetings, but if there are no meetings because of the lockout he's on his own.
6.Titans running back Chris Johnson: Johnson wants a new contract, but there needs to be time for the Tennessee Titans to negotiate one. If the lockout extends close to the start of training camp or the start of the season, Johnson would probably be a holdout. He signed a "bridge" contract last season that gave him a slight raise with the thought that the team would take care of him this season. For what is expected to be a huge contract, the Titans need time to put some good offers together.
7. Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez: If the lockout goes into the season, Gonzalez might not be motivated to continue his future Hall of Fame career. A lot of veterans feel the same way. Kerry Collins reportedly isn't sure if he's coming back. Getting ready for a season requires a lot of work and training. If those veterans know by July 4 that there is going to be a season, they can focus on getting ready for camp and continuing their careers.
8. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Not many players live in Green Bay during the offseason. Rodgers would love to have workouts with his teammates, but there haven't been enough in town for that to happen. Rodgers' Super Bowl victory has put him on a high pedestal. The Packers are thinking Super Bowl again, and Rodgers is now among the top elite quarterbacks in football. But he and his Packers teammates need time together to try to repeat the success of last season.
9. Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth: Haynesworth settled his road rage case this week and wants to concentrate on football. But he needs a new team just as his teammate, Donovan McNabb, does. Given a month, Mike Shanahan can work on the exit strategies for both players, allowing them time to rebound from bad seasons.
10. Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib: Teammate Ronde Barber spoke up for the troubled Bucs cornerback this week. Players don't want him to be released, and the team is likely to keep him. But he faces up to 20 years in prison on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas. Instead of sitting through the summer worrying about the case, Talib would be best served by a quick labor settlement and the chance to focus on football.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.