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Sign of progress? NFL asks owners to clear schedules next week

The NFL has asked owners to keep their schedules open next week, when the league holds meetings in Chicago, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer confirmed Tuesday.

The owners are scheduled to meet June 21, and the memo from the league has fueled speculation that perhaps the league and the NFL Players Association are making progress in their negotiations toward an agreement that would end the three-month-old lockout.

Last week, the sides concluded two days of what sources described as "very serious talks" in an attempt to build off previous secret negotiations in suburban Chicago. It is believed last week's talks took place in a Long Island, N.Y., hotel.

According to sources, these meetings are expected to happen frequently for the foreseeable future and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the negotiations would eventually resume.

"NFL owners and players have engaged in further confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan this week," Aiello posted on his Twitter account this past Wednesday. "Those discussions will continue."

According to Aiello, NFL attendees at last week's meetings included Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers), Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), John Mara (New York Giants) and Dean Spanos (San Diego Chargers). All five owners are members of the NFL's labor committee.

The players were represented by NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFLPA executive committee members Kevin Mawae (president), Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore Ravens), Tony Richardson (New York Jets), Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis Colts) and Mike Vrabel (Kansas City Chiefs).

Goodell later held a conference call with season ticket holders of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his 19th such call with NFL ticket holders this offseason. According to a Twitter post from Aiello, Goodell told fans that "talks are going on. Both sides are working hard to reach an agreement. That's a positive step for everybody."

"We are going to continue to work at it," Goodell continued. "I believe both sides want to find solutions. I'm hopeful we're going to be successful. It's the objective of everybody involved with the NFL to play a full 2011 season."

The secret meetings in suburban Chicago lasted three days, running up to Friday's hearing at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on the NFL's appeal of a lockout-lifting injunction granted to the players by a district court. After that set of talks, the league and players put out a joint statement.

"The parties met pursuant to court mediation," the statement said. "Owners and players were engaged in confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan. The court has ordered continued confidentiality of the mediation sessions."

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