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League, players meet for third consecutive day

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and the players union are meeting for a third consecutive day Sunday in an effort to make progress on a new collective bargaining agreement.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith arrived within 10 minutes of each other just before 10 a.m. ET. Neither would comment on the aproximately 15 hours of talks that took place Friday and Saturday with a federal mediator.

League and union officals -- including at least three active players -- arrived at the National Mediation and Conciliation Service office about a half hour earlier. George Cohen, the director of that U.S. government agency, has been mediating the talks.

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash reiterated what he said Saturday night, which is both sides are respecting Cohen's wishes to keep quiet about the meetings.

"We're working hard and following the director's playbook, and we'll see what we come up with," Pash said.

New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch were among the active players present Sunday, along with former player Pete Kendall.

On Friday, the league and union issued a joint statement saying the sides would adhere to Cohen's request that they stay quiet through the process in D.C. Cohen's role is not to make decisions in the process, but to help the process along.

The plan calls for several days of negotiations with Cohen present.

The current CBA expires March 3. The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as the following day, which could threaten the 2011 season.

News of the start of mediation could be a positive sign after several months of infrequent negotiations -- and frequent rhetoric, including charges from each side that the other was hoping for a work stoppage.

The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again last week but called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.

The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games, a rookie wage scale and benefits for retired players.

Cohen was involved in Major League Soccer's negotiations with its players' union last year, when a possible work stoppage was avoided.

He was the baseball players' association's lead lawyer in federal court in 1995, when the National Labor Relations Board obtained an injunction against owners from then-District Judge -- and now Supreme Court Justice -- Sonia Sotomayor that led players to end their strike, which lasted more than seven months.

The FMCS was involved in negotiations during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and in a 2005 dispute between the U.S. Soccer Federation and national team players.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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