UPDATED 8:25 p.m. | FORT WORTH, Texas — Finally, it appears “close” really means close, and a new collective bargaining agreement is on the horizon. Do the Dougie, celebrate like Ochocinco, have a Gatorade bath, get the Fantasy draft board ready.

NFL owners have a league meeting scheduled Thursday in Atlanta, two days after the sides meet with the mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, in Minneapolis. It won’t be long now. The sides have agreed to a rookie wage scale, the last economic hurdle in a $9.3 billion yearly pie they have been squabbling over.

They will meet during the weekend in hopes of finalizing an agreement in principle.

In a matter of days, teams can sign their rookies and their own free agents. Then, free agency will start.

Training camp is right around the corner.

Never have owners, players and fans been so excited about the preseason. OK, so maybe not excited, but certainly happy to have football back.

Coaches have not had organized team activities or minicamps. They haven’t had their players at team facilities working out under the watchful eye of their strength and conditioning coaches.

Players presumably have been working out on their own. Some teams, including the Cowboys, have had player-only practices.

No matter, it isn’t the same thing.

“There’s no way to simulate a full-speed practice,” former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said in a telephone interview. “You can’t do it. The players are doing the best they can to do that, but there’s just no way to simulate that. That will be a big concern. You’re going to have to dedicate some period of time to bring them back up to full speed.”

Obviously, teams with unchanged coaching staffs and with an established veteran quarterback, are going to be in the best shape, figuratively speaking. Teams such as the Patriots, Colts, Packers, Chargers, Steelers and Saints return with the same head coaches, mostly the same coaching staffs, the same systems and the same quarterbacks.

But then, those teams usually have an advantage anyway, because they have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees as their quarterbacks.

Those teams, along with the Ravens, have the best Las Vegas odds to win Super Bowl XLVI.

“You’ve got clubs that had no changes and have a veteran quarterback,” Fisher said. “You would expect them to be successful earlier in the season.”

Twelve teams have had enough off-season change, either within the coaching staff or at quarterback, that they will enter this preseason with huge question marks and long odds.

The Cowboys have a new defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. Their quarterback, Tony Romo, missed the last 10 games of last season. They, though, stand a better chance than some others.

The Titans replaced Fisher and don’t have a veteran quarterback on their roster, having announced they will waive Vince Young. The Panthers have a new head coach and drafted their quarterback of the future, Cam Newton, with the first overall pick. The 49ers have a new coach. The Vikings are replacing Brett Favre. The Browns have a new coach and are changing defenses. The Cardinals and the Seahawks are in need of a starting quarterback, with both rumored to be interested in trading for Kevin Kolb. The Redskins will release Donovan McNabb, leaving them with John Beck. The Bengals’ quarterback, Carson Palmer, has demanded a trade, and Cincinnati has plans to go with rookie Andy Dalton. The Raiders and Broncos have new head coaches.

“When a new coach gets hired, it’s usually because they weren’t a very good football team. Something was wrong,” former NFL coach Dan Reeves said in a telephone interview. “More than likely, they didn’t have that established quarterback. If you don’t have an established quarterback, you’re behind that eight ball already.”

Every team is behind the eight ball, in some form or fashion, after the more-than-four-month lockout. But it’s nice finally to be talking X’s and O’s instead of dollars and cents.

It’s time.

It’s time to get back to football.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Visit the Star-Telegram on the World Wide Web at http://www.star-telegram.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.