NFL owners and players concluded two days of what were described as "very serious talks" Wednesday, according to sources, in an attempt to build off last week's secret negotiations in suburban Chicago and work toward a resolution to end the three-month-old lockout.
The exact location of this set of talks remains unknown, though they are believed to have taken 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 Wednesday. "Those discussions will continue."
According to Aiello, NFL attendees at this 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."
When one Bucs fan told the commissioner he was praying for him, Goodell responded, "I appreciate your prayers. I'll take any help I can get."
Last week's secret meetings 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."
The most recent negotiations included a few changes from the parties who were at the table during last week's sessions. Richardson, Kraft and Mara were joined by Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers) -- both members of the NFL's labor committee -- last week, as were active players Brian Dawkins (Denver Broncos), Vrabel, Richardson and Saturday.
The setup of this week's talks was scheduled to be similar, taking place over several days as both sides try to build momentum from one session to the next and find some consistency with the dynamics of the negotiations. The most recent sessions were unexpected after Boylan publicly cancelled the court-ordered mediation set to begin on Tuesday. Sources said Boylan moved to cancel this week's mediation in the interest of confidentiality.
When asked about the next meeting during an appearance at a military base in Fort Bragg, N.C., last Friday, Goodell said, "We will be meeting again." Goodell declined to comment on when, but did strike an optimistic tone.
"I think it's fair to say anytime you have dialogue directly, that's going to lead to progress," he told reporters. "I think we need more of that. As you've heard me say many times, I think this is going to be solved through bargaining, not through litigation. So that (Chicago meeting) was a positive sign for us."
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