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Players, owners strive for progress in Thursday's session

NEW YORK -- The NFL will hold a meeting in seven days in Atlanta, and the hope is the owners will have a completed proposal to vote on there.

But there's plenty of work to be done, and it continued on Thursday morning. Large groups representing each party entered and kicked off talks at 9 a.m. ET, looking to make the breakthroughs that have failed to come over the last week of meetings in Manhattan.

On Wednesday, six ownership-types -- Carolina's Jerry Richardson, Dallas' Jerry Jones, New England's Robert Kraft, The Giants' John Mara, Kansas City's Clark Hunt and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney II -- took part in meetings, which is more than the five that have typically been part of the process during the six weeks previous to this one. On Thursday, Packers CEO Mark Murphy and Chargers president Dean Spanos arrived, giving the league eight of 10 labor committee members in attendance.

The labor committee has been empowered by ownership to make decisions during these meetings, and is joined by commissioner Roger Goodell.

The players group remained largely the same, with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith leading a group that includes retirees Pete Kendall and Sean Morey, Baltimore's Domonique Foxworth, Atlanta's Tyson Clabo, Indianapolis' Jeff Saturday, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen and outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler.

The two parties met for more than 11 hours on Wednesday, with the players side beginning to file out of the Manhattan law firm hosting the sessions around 8 p.m. The owners stayed and held internal meetings until 10 p.m. A late-night negotiating session was considered, and players remained on call for it, but that plan was ultimately scrapped.

According to sources on both sides of the table, very little progress was made Wednesday on the core issues that remain unresolved. The players and owners failed to achieve their goal of reaching breakthroughs last week on the rookie wage scale and the funding of retirees benefits, and they struck out in that area again on Wednesday. As one source put it, "We'll try again tomorrow."

There was some progress made on smaller issues, but time is running short to fix the bigger ones. The league has set the aforemention objective to have a completed deal to present to the larger group of owners next week in Atlanta.

Thursday's summit is the last one scheduled this week, but it's likely sessions will continue into Friday and even could go into the weekend, based on how things are moving forward. One league source referred to this as "deadline time," when negotiators need to "do what it takes" to close a deal.

Sessions the first two days of this week were productive, as the parties worked to close out language for necessary elements of a potential deal to end the lockout.

The parties have been ordered to meet at U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's chambers next Tuesday, with counsel and figures carrying "full settlement authority" in attendance. The hope is that, by then, an agreement in principle will have been reached and the process of settling the outstanding litigation can be worked on.

Some internal deadlines have set July 15, this Friday, as the date to have an agreement in order to save the preseason in its natural form. The Rams and Bears are scheduled to open their training camps at the end of next week, though that seems unrealistic at this point.

The Hall of Fame Game between St. Louis and Chicago, however, has not yet been cancelled. That game, the first on the preseason ledger, is scheduled for Aug. 7.

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