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League, union meet in D.C. for second day of labor talks

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFL Players Association met for a second straight day with a mediator Saturday, hoping to close a sizable gap in their stances on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.

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League and union officials arrived between 9 and 9:30 a.m. ET and met for a little less than seven hours at the National Mediation and Conciliation Service. 

It was very much the same group Saturday that attended Friday's session. The principles on both sides, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- he turned 52 Saturday -- were at the summit, as were former players Pete Kendall and Sean Morey, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman, and union lawyers Richard Berthelsen and Jeffrey Kessler.

New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch were among more than a dozen members of the union's negotiating team present.

"We're here, so that's a good thing," Saturday said. "You can't get anything done without communicating. So we're communicating with each other."

Smith did not stop to take questions when he left at about 4:30 p.m. Goodell left shortly after, departing as a passenger in a BMW. He was asked if he planned to keep quiet. "That I'm sure of," he said.

Pash declined to comment on the specifics of the meeting but said that "everyone is working hard."

On Friday, the league and union issued a joint statement saying the sides would adhere to federal mediator George Cohen's request that they stay quiet through the process in D.C. Cohen's role is not to make decisions in the process, but to help the process along. Every person approached for comment has steadfastly declined over the last two days, adhering to Cohen's request.

The plan calls for several days of negotiations with Cohen present.

The current CBA expires March 3. The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as the following day, 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.

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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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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