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Players, owners looking to resolve last-minute issues

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. today. That’s when players who signed new contracts will be allowed to practice for the first time if the CBA is approved.

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 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.”

Following the 4 1/2 -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.

Dallas player rep Jason Witten wasn’t surprised that another deadline was being faced.

“We knew that was going to take a little bit of time (with) some of those issues,” Witten said. “But, gosh, a lot of work’s gone into it to get to this point; hate to see it slip.”

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