WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFL Players Association kicked off the seventh and final day of mediation before George S. Cohen on Thursday morning at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
The two sides logged some 46 hours of meetings within the FMCS walls during their first six days in Washington, but both have been operating under a cone of silence ordered by Cohen at the outset.
"Anytime you're talking, it's always good," said Indianapolis Colts center and NFLPA executive committee member Jeff Saturday. "We're continuing to talk, so we'll see how it goes."
Saturday was one of four active players, all executive committee members, present for the final day of federal mediation, joined by the Denver Broncos' Brian Dawkins and the Kansas City Chiefs' Mike Vrabel and Brian Waters. Those four are among 10 players to pass through during the past seven days. Nine were executive committee members, with the only absences among that group being New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and NFLPA president Kevin Mawae.
Saturday, Dawkins, Vrabel and Waters originally were scheduled to take part in meetings in Indianapolis on Thursday, but they were kept in Washington instead for the final day of the mediation. The player contingent arrived shortly before NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who entered the building at 9:30 a.m. ET. Also in the NFLPA group was general counsel Richard Berthelsen. Union outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler is in Minnesota for Thursday's network rights fees hearing.
The NFL group arrived earlier, with Commissioner Roger Goodell, general counsel Jeff Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman coming during the 8 a.m. hour. When it was pointed out to Batterman that Thursday is the final day of the mediation and everyone is leaving, he responded, "But still continuing to talk."
Goodell, on his way in shortly before 9 a.m., said, "I hate to tell you this, but no comment."
The league side went all seven days without any of the 32 NFL owners in the mediation.
Where the status quo was maintained for much of the first five days of meetings, the chronology of events on Wednesday differed.
From Friday through Tuesday, and through some 38 hours of meetings, the NFL and NFLPA had stayed largely locked in the FMCS building, with only individuals trickling out from time to time. But on Wednesday, an NFLPA contingent numbering 12 -- that included Smith, Saturday, Vrabel, Waters and Dawkins -- left the meetings at 3:15 p.m. ET.
Smith said the group was "taking a break until 5 (p.m.)" and headed for the NFLPA's 20th Street office, two blocks away. They returned at 4:45 p.m., and then left again, this time for good, less than an hour later.
Neither side said why then, and they weren't expounding on it Thursday either, per the request of Cohen.
"It's nice of you guys to cover this, it's important," said NFLPA former players executive committee representative Jim McFarland. "But unfortunately, there's not much information we can provide. Hopefully this will all work out."
The union did go to the length of calling off a small meeting with high-level agents scheduled for Thursday in Indianapolis.
There will be a league meeting, though, on Thursday for high-ranking club officials, with head coaches, general managers, and a third team official of the club's choosing present, according to multiple league sources.
When asked about it, league spokesman Greg Aiello responded, via email, that "It happens every year. It's a normal part of the Combine, which always has meetings galore. It's not the first time. It's not a special meeting. An update on labor negotiations would be appropriate."
The meeting has garnered some buzz in NFL circles, though. When asked if it was unusual, one high-ranking club official responded that, "These are unusual times." In addition to having the general manager and coach there, the official said the third man in would likely, "your lead cap person or lead person on league matters, or team president."
One general manager said that he'd been present at such meetings at the combines in the past, and anticipated this one would "just be an update on procedures."