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League targeting June as starting date in labor negotiations with players

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Talks between the NFL and the players' union on a new collective bargaining agreement are expected to begin next month, with an eye on avoiding a lockout that could disrupt the 2011 season.

Jeff Pash, the NFL's executive vice president and general counsel, said Tuesday at the NFL Spring Meeting that he believes both the league and new NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith have laid "a good groundwork for these discussions to begin," but stopped short of saying how long they might take.

"We'll stay at it for as long as it takes," Pash said.

NFL owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement last year, meaning there could be a labor-related stoppage if a new deal isn't struck for the 2011 season. Combined with the global economic downturn and the chance of a longer NFL regular-season schedule, it seems possible that talks between the league and union could be contentious.

"The right place to start is a place where the players understand why the owners opted out," Smith said. "We all know that the players didn't opt out of this deal. We do know the NFL generated in excess of $8 billion last year. We know that the average team has grown by 400 percent in 10 years. ... What we don't understand is what is wrong with the current deal when those facts exist."

Smith reiterated on Tuesday that he would like to obtain more details on the league's revenues, only to have Commissioner Roger Goodell counter by saying the union knows details of the books "to the penny."

Pash said the league hasn't set a deadline for a new deal to be struck, saying that would be counterproductive.

"I think fans should be confident that we're going to be (as) single-minded in our focus on this as we possibly can," Pash said. "I think it's in everyone's interest. We've had a very healthy partnership. ... It's clearly in everyone's interest to try to maintain that."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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