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League, players acknowledge commitment toward new CBA

NFL owners and players wrapped up their fourth set of "secret" meetings Thursday.

HULL, Mass. -- NFL owners and players wrapped up their fourth set of "secret" meetings Thursday, highlighted by a joint appearance from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who both pledged a commitment to reach an agreement in time to start the 2011 season on schedule.

According to league sources, Thursday marked the first time since the parties began meeting in clandestine sessions May 31 that the rookie pay system was broached, and some bumps were expected. But it was the first time Goodell and Smith appeared together to deliver a statement since the lockout began 100 days ago.

Goodell, standing outside Nantasket Beach Resort, where the talks were held, started by saying: "We are under court order, as far as what we can discuss, so our comments will be brief. Obviously, we're all working hard, the players and owners were here over the last few days, and De and I were here for the entire meetings also. And it's complicated, and it's complex, but we're working hard. We understand the fans' frustration, but I think both of us feel strongly that we're going to continue to work hard on it."

Smith followed by saying: "Someone asked me if I was optimistic -- I think we're both optimistic when we have the right people in the room. We know we're talking about the right issues, and we're working hard to get it done. It's extremely complicated. It requires a lot of hard work by a lot of people. But we're committed to getting something done. And we're going to keep working at it."

Also in the group from the league were New York Giants owner John Mara, San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt, outside counsel Bob Batterman and other legal people. In the players group were Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, former Pro Bowl guard Pete Kendall, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and general counsel Richard Berthelsen.

Kraft was asked on his way out about progress, but he deferred to Smith and Goodell while saying, "Everything's good in Beantown." Kendall, among others, declined comment.

The sides met May 31-June 2 in suburban Chicago, June 7-8 on Long Island, N.Y., and June 14-15 on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The talks are expected to continue next week, with the NFLPA staging its rookie symposium concurrently in Bradenton, Fla.

Asked about the symbolism of he and Goodell standing together in a downpour to talk to assembled media, Smith joked that "it means it's raining outside, and his car is right there." But Smith also wanted to calm any of those worried about the fate of the 2011 season.

"We're working hard," Smith said. "We understand the fans' frustration. I know our players' frustration, but we're going to keep working hard and try and make sure we get a deal done."

St. Louis Rams wide receiver Mark Clayton told The Associated Press that "through our player reps, things sound really good," but that "we're kind of set with what we want."

"We pretty much agreed to what our (players association) was fighting for on our behalf," Clayton said. "It sounds like a lot of what we asked for, apart from the finances, they've been able to agree upon. At that point, we're just kind of waiting to get the final say-so and just roll it out."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.*

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