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Owners, players set to meet, with July 21 goal to reach deal

NEW YORK -- Legal teams and staff for NFL owners and players met for a second consecutive day at a Manhattan law firm, setting the stage for the Wednesday arrival of the principals in the league's labor dispute.

Sessions the first two days of the week were productive, as the parties worked to close out language for necessary elements of a potential deal to end the lockout, which reached the four-month mark Tuesday. There were about 12 participants, including NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman and NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, in Tuesday's nine-hour-plus session.

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Sources said the league's objective is to have a completed deal July 21 to present to the larger group at an owners meeting in Atlanta. But the owners and players still have work to do in solving significant issues such as the rookie salary system and funding for retirees' benefits.

Representing the NFL at Wednesday's meeting will be Commissioner Roger Goodell, Carolina Panthers owner and labor committee chair Jerry Richardson, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II. The players group will include NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, retiree Sean Morey and others figures who have been vital to the process.

All of the above have been involved in the process since pre-lockout negotiations in Washington.

The parties have been ordered to meet at U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's chambers next Tuesday, with counsel and figures in attendance carrying "full settlement authority." The hope is that, by then, an agreement in principle will have been reached, and the parties can work on the process of settling the outstanding litigation. To that end, the plaintiffs in the Brady et al v. the National Football League et al case participated in a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

It's worth noting that last week's meetings between owners and players didn't end well, and there's still plenty of ground to cover.

The parties had a tough day of negotiations last Thursday, followed by a Friday in which almost no real 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.

Some internal deadlines have been set for July 15 -- this Friday -- as the date to have an agreement in order to save the preseason in its natural form. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open their training camps at the end of next week, though that seems unrealistic at this point.

However, the Hall of Fame Game between St. Louis and Chicago hasn't yet been canceled. That game, the first on the preseason ledger, is scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

A primary motivator in this set of talks has been the potential loss of preseason revenue, and it would start with the Rams-Bears game.

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