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Back at it: Owners, players begin critical week of labor talks

NEW YORK -- It was hoped that NFL owners and players wouldn't have to meet this week and could handle their remaining issues via phone calls, email and their respective legal teams.

It looks like that hope won't be fulfilled.

As lawyers and staff for the owners gathered in New York on Monday, NFL Players Association executive committee members began arriving in Washington, D.C. and will meet through Tuesday. Player representatives have been invited in for planned meetings on Wednesday.

The NFL sent a memo out to clubs Monday, advising key executives to come to this Thursday's league meeting in Atlanta. If the ratification vote does, indeed, take place, the labor seminar would extend into Friday in Atlanta.

The NFLPA negotiating team could break off to meet with owners, but the plan is to educate members on details of a potential labor deal. Then they will follow U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's direction to meet with owners and/or management types, either Monday or Tuesday.

Boylan initially ordered the parties to report to his chambers in Minneapolis on Monday night and meet jointly Tuesday, but he was traveling to New York on Monday, according to a league source.

Said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello: "The parties will be in touch with Judge Boylan to give him a report on developments in advance of next Tuesday's session and will consult with him on how to make the best use of the time before our league meeting on Thursday."

With the economics of a new labor deal in place, the expectation remains that an agreement in principle will be reached in the coming days, though one source maintained, "We're not there yet." The owners' objective has been to hold a ratification vote on a completed deal Thursday in Atlanta.

Lawyers and staff for the owners and players worked Saturday for 7½ hours on reviewing language built over the last few weeks on issues that have been settled. The lawyers also drafted new language on aspects that were agreed upon during the productive talks held Thursday and Friday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith also were said to be commiserating over the weekend.

"We kept at it, worked hard," NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said about Saturday's meeting. "We got a fair amount done, and we'll be back at it tomorrow.

"It's exactly where I would expect it to be right now. The principals have done their jobs, the commissioner and Mr. Smith, and the owners and the players have done their work, and now it's up to us to get things properly documented, identify any remaining points that need to be cleared up and keep driving this process toward a conclusion."

As the parties work to complete the deal by the end of this week, they will work to solve certain settlement terms and player safety guidelines that are complicated by the fact that the deal likely will be good for as many as 10 years.

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Safety issues are at the top of the players' list. Injury protection, workers' compensation rights for injured players and rules governing offseason workouts -- contact, in particular -- are at the heart of the matter, according to sources.

The biggest issue left on the table is the players desire to recoup $320 million in lost benefits from 2010, which was an uncapped year. Also, with three named plaintiffs -- Peyton Manning, Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins -- in the Brady antitrust lawsuit against the league currently under franchise tags, the players are looking to bar teams from using that designation on the same player in consecutive years.

Another point of emphasis for the players is to take care of the rank and file, so across-the-board hikes in the league minimum salary are expected.

The players are passionate about the safety rules, but the differences on the open issues between the parties are considered workable and shouldn't stand in the way of the deal, according to sources. But for now, those issues will require face-to-face meetings.

Several issues -- such as The Legacy Fund (retiree benefits) and drug testing -- will require the NFL Players Association to re-certify as a union or obtain a waiver to finalize.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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