NFL, union continue to hold talks
The NFL and the players' union wrapped up a sixth consecutive day of mediated talks Wednesday — and they will meet again Thursday.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and most of his negotiating group - including four current players - left Wednesday's session at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service a little after 5:30 p.m.
That was less than an hour after Smith and a dozen members of the union's team returned from a 1 1/2-hour break. It wasn't clear what, if any, significance the break holds, although it was the first time since the mediation began Friday that either side left the building en masse in the middle of a day. Generally, the groups have arrived in the morning and departed in the evening.
They've met for a total of more than 40 hours so far.
Smith and others in the union contingent declined to comment, abiding by mediator George Cohen's request that the sides stay silent. Nothing about what's been discussed has been revealed by either side.
''I just can't say anything. I'm afraid of Mr. Cohen,'' NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said when he left, about an hour after Smith did. ''I'm going to just say, 'No comment.' See you tomorrow morning.''
The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the day March 3, and the voluntary mediation is seen as an attempt to spur progress.
NFLPA executive committee members Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos, Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts, and Mike Vrabel and Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs participated Wednesday. Nine of that committee's 11 members have been present at some point during these six days of talks; union president Kevin Mawae and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees have not been seen entering or exiting the meetings.
On Thursday, the league will hold a meeting for general managers, coaches and other officials at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.
''It's a normal part of the combine, which is always filled with meetings galore,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press after ESPN.com first reported about the GMs-coaches session. ''There was such a meeting last year. It's not the first time.''
Still, given the state of labor negotiations, the NFL is expected to update attendees - although Commissioner Roger Goodell and Pash would be in Washington, not Indianapolis, on Thursday.
There will be another development Thursday: A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota will hold a hearing on the union's appeal of this month's ruling on its complaint about the league's TV contracts. The union has accused the NFL of structuring TV contracts so owners would be guaranteed money even if there were a lockout in 2011 - while not getting the most revenue possible in other seasons, when income would need to be shared with players.
After months of infrequent and sometimes contentious bargaining, the league and union have been communicating face-to-face since Friday.
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 once the next week, then 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: a rookie wage scale; the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.