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Sides will meet again Monday

Posted Jul 9, 2011

NFL players and owners wrapped up a frustrating couple of days in Manhattan on Friday that didn't produce much. The legal teams and staff from each side will convene on Monday in Manhattan.

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in January that a deadline "has to be real" to create the anxiety needed to push parties to a new collective bargaining deal that works for everyone.

And so it is.

NFL players and owners wrapped up a frustrating couple of days in Manhattan with 10 hours of talks Friday that didn't produce much. In fact, three sources, including figures on each side, said there was little to no progress on the core issues the parties had hoped to break through in constructing a new labor deal this week.

As a result, the lockout, which is now in its fifth month, will continue into next week. There will be communication between the parties over the weekend -- it's not considered a "weekend off" -- but the next set of face-to-face labor talks won't occur until Monday. The legal teams and staff from each side will convene in Manhattan, with the players and owners expected to join them Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We're going to break for the weekend, get back to work next week. We continue to work hard to get something done," NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said. "I know our fans want us to get something done as quickly as possible."

Smith led a six-man group of players, with retirees Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president, Sean Morey and Pete Kendall joined by active players Charlie Batch, Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was accompanied by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and the New York Giants' John Mara.

Smith conducted a conference call with players at 3 p.m. ET, about six hours into the meeting, was thanked for his efforts by a number of players and told the group would stay united during an important time.

Next week's talks will be critical, with the days waning before preseason games will be forced off the schedule. The NFL estimates an entirely canceled preseason would cost nearly $1 billion in revenue, and although the players believe that number is inflated, there is little question the figure would be significant and take a serious toll on any proposal made by the league.

Judge Arthur J. Boylan, who is mediating the labor dispute between NFL owners and players, also scheduled a future session for July 19 in Minneapolis. Boylan set the meeting on Saturday, just before starting his vacation. But he also made clear that both sides should continue their own sessions in the interim as they work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

Boylan ordered both sides to continue mediation without him "in an effort to define and narrow the differences between their respective settlement positions." He also ordered attorneys from both sides to be ready to meet with him on the evening of July 18 "for an in-person agenda- setting session" that presumably would set the stage for meaningful, fruitful talks the following day.

Adversely affecting Friday's talks was the late-morning ruling from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's April decision to issue an injunction to lift the NFL lockout.

Although the decision enabled the lockout to remain in place, the players were afforded leverage as well, and NFLPA officials found solace in elements of the decision.

First, the appeals court allowed the players' antitrust litigation to move forward, meaning the owners are operating in treble damages liability as long as the lockout is ongoing.

Second, the court declined to rule on the legality of the owners locking out the league's unsigned players -- rookies and unrestricted free agents. The players can file for an injunction with Nelson's court to allow those players to sign with teams, something they are confident they would be granted based on the district judge's earlier decision, and create a chaotic situation for the league.

Judge Kermit Bye dissented on the decision. He had said at a June 3 hearing that the decision would be one "both sides aren't going to like," and the panel certainly delivered that.

The idea, ultimately, is to place the parties in uncomfortable positions that encourage them to resolve the situation on their own, something they said in a joint statement that they'd continue to work to do.

One more outstanding court decision remains: Judge David Doty has yet to issue his ruling on the networks rights-fees case, which will determine the fate of more than $4 billion in television revenue.

Doty, like the 8th U.S. Circuit Court, said in court he would rather the players and owners work out their differences before he makes a ruling in his case.

Next Friday, July 15, has long been seen as a deadline to get a deal and save the preseason in full. There are a number of issues -- including the rookie salary system and funding of retiree benefits -- on which the parties have failed to make breakthroughs.

Those issues flow into the larger issue of the revenue split. After progress June 30 and July 1 in Minneapolis, larger concepts in that area, such as the all-revenue model, may no longer be stumbling blocks. But the related issues have potential to tear down what's in place.

When talks resume next week, the lawyers will continue to hammer away at language and details, an area where they were able to make progress earlier this week.

It has been estimated that it would take between 10 and 14 days to go from an agreement to a signed document, and the aim of those sessions is to cut down that time and lay groundwork to quickly move things from a settlement to the opening of training camps. The Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, who are scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7, are scheduled to report to camp July 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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