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League, union negotiating teams grow for latest meeting

WASHINGTON -- Thursday's mediation session between the NFL and the NFL Players Association was one of the most well-attended yet.

In addition to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, general counsel Jeff Pash and league outside counsel Bob Batterman, the NFL's group included nine of the 10 members of the NFL's labor committee: co-chairs Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, and Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos, as well as Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, New York Giants owner John Mara, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II, San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos and Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy.

The 10th member of the labor committee, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, has a previously scheduled commitment in Israel.

Philadelphia Eagles president and Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen also were in attendance for the 15th day of mediation at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Building.

The NFLPA's contingent grew to include outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler and numerous members of the NFLPA's executive committee, including Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth. The union group also included retired players Cornelius Bennett, Pete Kendall, Sean Morey and Jim McFarland.

Day 14 of the talks ended with the sides unable to agree on what league financial information should and shouldn't be available to the union, putting the ongoing talks in peril with Friday's expiration of the twice-extended collective bargaining agreement fast approaching.

While leaving Wednesday's meeting at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith indicated that the league has lowered from $1 billion to $800 million the amount of additional revenues it wants to take off the top of the $9.3 billion business. But Smith said he still considers that lower figure too high because the league isn't offering to turn over enough financial information.

"Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn't what we asked for," Smith said to reporters after Wednesday's session, "and, according to our investment bankers and advisers, they told us that information would be meaningless in determining whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League (in each year of a new CBA).

"We have requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009," Smith continued, referencing a letter he wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (NFL Network obtained a copy Wednesday). "We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league's request to write a multibillion check to the owners."

In the 2009 letter, the contents of which were confirmed by a league source, the union asked for each team's total operating income, total operating expenses, profit from operations, other income/expenses, income before provision for income taxes, provision for income taxes, net income, cash and investment assets, dividends and other distributions to owners and their families, and financial statement notes.

According to league and union sources, the NFL recently offered the NFLPA top-line info -- an aggregate of profitability over a five-year period at the league level. The union pushed for more information at the individual team level, and union officials believe possessing the numbers for each of the 32 franchises is vital to justifying the additional cost credit the NFL is seeking, because that data contains very specific financial information, such as stadium and overhead costs.

The NFL offered to illustrate the effect of economic conditions, the number of teams that have experienced a shift in profitability over the aforementioned five-year period (2005-2009) and a third-party auditor to assess all information. The union declined the offer to view that information.

"We've made more information available in the course of this negotiation than has ever been made available in decades of collective bargaining with the NFLPA," Pash said after Wednesday's meeting. "Far more information. And we've offered to make even more information (available), including information that we do not disclose to our own clubs.

"Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely. And is it a subject that we're prepared to discuss? Absolutely."

According to a league source, the NFL believes its offer to share information on profitability that isn't made available to its teams is a major concession. Union officials believe, according to an NFLPA source, that it was important not to accept any offer to see additional information until they deemed it sufficient.

The union had an auditor in Washington on Tuesday to evaluate the NFL's offer of additional financial information, which it subsequently rejected. The NFLPA also has retained an investment bank to advise it in this process.

"When we're talking, we have a chance at making progress," Pash said before Wednesday's meeting. "Every day, even days that have been difficult, we have good discussions on important issues.

"There is a long way to go, but as long as we stay at it, we have a chance to get an agreement done."

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the union asked the federal judge who ruled in its favor in a case involving television contracts to release information that is under seal. U.S. District Court judge David Doty sided with the players last week, saying the league illegally set up $4 billion in payments from networks -- money the union argued was collected to fund a lockout.

The NFLPA said in Wednesday's filing that the NFL hasn't explained why material should remain under seal and that the league hasn't cooperated with the union's attempt to propose limited redactions to protect third-party information only.

"The NFL cannot be permitted to comment publicly about these proceedings and then turn around to embrace a cloak of confidentiality that thwarts the public's right to know," union lawyers wrote in the filing.

Asked to comment, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press: "We will respond to that filing in due course."

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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