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NFL, union to gather for fourth day of mediated discussions

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and the NFL Players Association are meeting before federal mediator George S. Cohen for a fourth straight day Monday, in an effort to forward labor negotiations in advance of the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement on March 3.

The NFL's outside counsel Bob Batterman and general counsel Jeffrey Pash arrived shortly before 9 a.m. ET, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell arriving at 9:12 a.m.

Sunday's meetings lasted over eight hours, the longest day of negotiations since the NFL and NFLPA arrived in Washington on Friday.

The two sides have now met for a total of over 20 hours and there are four days left of scheduled meetings before Cohen.

Cohen directed both sides to stay quiet through the process, and everyone approached has adhered to the request and refused to discuss the tenor, tone or content of these talks.

"You know we're not going to give you any information," said Batterman on Sunday, when approached for comment. "I can't say anything other than the fact that we are meeting."

Sunday's gathering included NFL general counsel Jeffrey Pash, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Jets fullback Tony Richardson and ex-player Sean Morey.

Fujita, Morey, Batch and Richardson serve on the union's executive committee, while Kendall has been appointed a "permanent player representative."

The plan is for the sides to go right through Thursday, with the clock ticking to the expiration of the CBA. The union chiefs will meet with player agents at a mandatory summit at the scouting combine on Friday, and the league has meetings scheduled on March 2 and 3 in Northern Virginia.

The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as March 4, 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.

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