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League, union kick off talks about new collective bargaining agreement

The NFL and its players union started Wednesday on a long road that they hope can avoid a work stoppage in 2011, when the current contract expires.  

NEW YORK -- The NFL and its players union started Wednesday on a long road that they hope can avoid a work stoppage in 2011, when the current contract expires.

The talks about a new collective bargaining agreement began in New York, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the new executive director of the NFL Players Association, both present.

"We had a good meeting and agreed to meet again," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

The NFLPA said it had no comment at this time.

Wednesday's talks were mainly about procedural issues rather than substantive ones. One early subject of contention: the union's demand that NFL teams open their books and the league's position that the union already has all the relevant financial information.

"We are focused on getting an agreement that works for the long term," Goodell said Monday during a function at Giants Stadium. "We're not specifically setting any deadlines or dates. Our issue is we know we have two more years of football. We would like to have an agreement that works for everybody in that period of time. If it takes up to the final moment, it takes up to the final moment."

The original agreement was supposed to last through 2013, but the owners opted out of that deal in May 2008, citing economic problems that make the nearly 60 percent of revenues that go to the players excessive. Many teams and the league office have since laid off employees.

While there are indications that ticket sales for 2009 are off for some teams, the league recently signed a two-year television contract extension that is reported to contain increases of from 3 to 5 percent.

If there is no agreement by March, the 2010 season will be the first without a salary cap since 1993, when the first deal containing free agency and the cap was signed. That followed more than five years without a contract after the 1987 strike, when the union decertified and took their case to federal court.

The late Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, said before his unexpected death last August that if the cap went away, there wouldn't be another. Smith hasn't yet expressed his opinion on the subject.

If there is no cap, teams would spend as much as they want for star players. However, free agency would be extended from four to six years, and there would be no minimum for spending, meaning some teams could spend far less on salaries than they are now.

"I don't think every team is going to start being like the Yankees and start throwing money around," Sean O'Hara, the New York Giants' player representative, said this week. "Some teams will do that, but on the flip side, others will say since we don't have to spend $102 million, we'll spend $80 million. The landscape will definitely change, and it won't be a windfall for everybody."

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