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Lawyers try to set table for key labor figures as talks continue

NEW YORK -- The seventh week of the latest phase of NFL labor negotiations kicked off Monday at a Manhattan law firm, with the status of the preseason hanging in the balance.

Legal teams and staff for the owners and players met separately in the morning hours, then came together for joint meetings at 2:30 p.m. The session broke about five hours later, wrapping a productive two days of talks in New York, with a constructive attitude aiding progress toward closing out language on various elements that would be part of a potential deal.

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The format for this week is similar to the previous two, with language and details handled by the lawyers earlier in the week, and owners and players joining later to negotiate core issues.

As such, the lawyers and staff will have another set of meetings on Tuesday morning. Players and owners, as well as NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, will be in contact via conference call, and return to New York for face-to-face sessions on Wednesday. The owners' contingent is expected to include Jerry Richardson, Jerry Jones, John Mara, Robert Kraft, Clark Hunt and Art Rooney, while the players will be represented by Jeff Saturday, Sean Morey, Domonique Foxworth, among others.

The league's objective is to have a completed proposal to present to the owners for a vote at their meeting in Atlanta on July 21. But there's still plenty of work to be done to achieve that, and it's by no means a foregone conclusion that it will happen.

Primary among the sticking points is the rookie salary system. While the two parties have made major progress on the larger issue of the revenue split, the rookie problem is one smaller item that flows into the bigger one and could threaten it. Also to be resolved is the funding of retiree benefits, another issue that runs into the revenue split.

Among those at Monday's meeting were NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, outside counsel Bob Batterman, senior VP of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch, and NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler. The idea of these smaller early-week sessions is to knock out much of the groundwork and smaller items, so when the bigger issues are taken care of, it will be a smoother process going from a basic agreement to a signed document to the beginning of the league year.

Last week, the players and owners had a tough day of negotiations on Thursday, followed by a Friday in which almost no progress was made. At the heart of the stalemate was the rookie wage issue, but that isn't the only outstanding problem to be solved.

The schedule moving forward for owners and players is open-ended, with an eye on saving the preseason and the bounty in revenue associated with it. The league's projection is that $1 billion would be lost with the cancellation of the preseason, a figure the players say is inflated. At any rate, it's a significant piece of the overall revenue pie, and its disappearance would likely change the tenor of talks dramatically, starting with the trickle-down effect it would have on the owners' offer to the players.

The next date on the calendar after this week is July 19, when the principles from each party and their lawyers will be in Minnesota to update U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who has overseen talks but is on vacation this week. The optimistic point of view would be that the session would be to discuss logistics in settling the litigation between the parties. The pessimistic view would have the parties engaged in another round of talks there, with preseason games coming off the schedule.

Some internal deadlines have set July 15 as the date to have an agreement in order to save the preseason in its natural form.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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