NEW YORK — With yet another deadline approaching, NFL players and owners still are debating drug testing, benefits and the player conduct policy disciplinary process as they work to complete the collective bargaining agreement.
The NFL and the players union were discussing those issues Wednesday, with the league year scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EDT on Thursday. That's when players who signed new contracts will be allowed to practice for the first time if the players approve the CBA.
Among the players' concerns is how HGH testing would be implemented, who would oversee it and what would be a fair appeals process. Blood tests are used to look for HGH, while urine tests are used to detect other substances that violate the league's drug policy.
Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated the expectation an agreement would be finalized on time.
"That's certainly our intention," he said Wednesday while visiting the Carolina Panthers. "If we can reach agreement and sign the collective bargaining agreement by tomorrow morning, we certainly expect for the new league year to start and the players to be out here tomorrow morning."
Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie calls Thursday "a soft deadline" but says it's "looking very optimistic" that the CBA will be signed on time.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark wasn't so sure.
"De Smith is still working," Clark said of the NFLPA executive director, "and we're trying to get this figured out. But it's not an absolute that guys will be at practice tomorrow."
Clark added that the disciplinary process "with Roger Goodell having total control over the fine process, that's a deal-breaker for us in this situation."
Pittsburgh has been one of the most fined teams in the league, particularly star linebacker James Harrison. The Steelers have been vocal about what they perceive as unfair treatment by the NFL.
"We feel like someone else should be on there; there should be some ... type of way — actually someone who's not on the NFL payroll," Clark said. "A big issue, for us, especially, as a team, is Roger Goodell ... being judge, jury and appeals system."
Following the 4½-month lockout, all 32 teams are counting on having those players with new contracts at practice on Thursday, with a few clubs moving back the starting time of their workouts. Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he doesn't "even want to entertain the thought" of a delay.
"The first thing that's going to happen is I'm going to jump out of a building somewhere," Thompson joked.
As it is, according to Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, it will be difficult to get any of the players still in waiting onto the field for the first weekend of exhibition games.
"You kind of have to go with what you have now," he said. "You run the risk of injury a little bit because you're down on bodies."
One of those bodies most eager to get back on the field is Reggie Bush, who was traded to Miami by New Orleans last week.
"Honestly, I hope it happens tomorrow," Bush said. "There are a lot of guys in the league right now who need to get to work."
BULGER RETIRES: Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger tells ESPN.com he is retiring after 11 NFL seasons.
Bulger was selected for the Pro Bowl twice and passed for 22,814 yards, 122 touchdowns and 93 interceptions.
Bulger was drafted out of West Virginia by New Orleans in 2000, but never played a game for the Saints. He latched on with St. Louis in 2001 and eventually succeeded Kurt Warner as the starter in St. Louis.
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