By Tom E. Curran
NEW ORLEANS - A whole mess of baseball kept me (happily) from reporting to New Orleans for the NFL Owner's Meetings until this morning. Now I'm here at the Motel 6 on the outskirts of Slidell Roosevelt Hotel (a Waldorf Astoria joint) in downtown New Orleans, settling in to hear owners 'splain themselves and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gum flap on Tuesday for the first time since the Pro Bowl. You can't swing a polo stick without hitting someone of NFL note. Just walking from the front door to get my credentials, I saw Jerry Jones, Ken Whisenhunt, John Elway, Mike Smith and Chan Gailey and Pete Carroll. These meetings are going to be "compressed." Usually, they run into Wednesday when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell brings the curtain down with an address to the media. This week, they are slated to end Tuesday afternoon. The entire labor situation has cast a pall over the atmosphere here. Still, I may be an idiot optimist, but I have sensed a cooling-off in the rhetoric between the owners and players since Goodell fired off his "Dear NFL player" letter. It's as if both sides have shouted their points from the rooftops, name-called and accused and they're all set with that. Troy Vincent, the NFL's VP of Player Development and a finalist for the executive director's job now held by DeMaurice Smith, agreed there's been some creeping civility and genuine interest in dialogue that's emerged.I wouldn't be at all surprised if major progress is not made among the owners this week. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy just told me we'll have some of the NFL's all-star lawyer revue coming out in the next couple of hours (fascinating). There may be a chat with Goodell today as well. Currently, I'm hanging out in a high-back chair outside a ballroom where the owners are trying to catch a word with any of the Patriots' principals. Don't move a muscle, we'll keep you updated.