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Labor deal still eludes NFL owners, players after 11-hour day

NEW YORK -- The commitment by NFL owners and players to work to a resolution was there Wednesday.

The progress needed to fix the league's labor situation was not.

The parties talked for more than 11 hours in their first day of joint meetings this week, with the players' side beginning to file out of the Manhattan law firm hosting the sessions around 8 p.m. ET. The owners stayed and held internal meetings until 10 p.m.

A late-night negotiating session was considered, and players remained on call for it, but that plan ultimately was scrapped.

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The parties will meet again at 9 a.m. Thursday.

According to sources on both sides of the negotiating table, very little progress was made Wednesday on the core issues, which remain unresolved. The parties failed to achieve their goal of reaching breakthroughs last week on the rookie wage scale and the funding of retiree benefits, and they again struck out Wednesday. As one source put it, "We'll try again tomorrow."

Some progress was made on smaller issues, but time is running short to fix the bigger ones. The league wants to have a completed deal to present to all owners for a vote at their meeting in Atlanta one week from Thursday.

Meanwhile, the three most prominent plaintiffs in the pending antitrust litigation against the NFL -- quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- released a statement Wednesday morning, backing their negotiating team's position and imploring that a deal be reached soon.

"We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done," the quarterbacks said in a statement, their first as a group since they filed suit March 11. "This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."

The league issued its own statement in response: "We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players' negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."

One league source referred to this as "deadline time," when negotiators need to "do what it takes" to close a deal.

It's likely the sessions will continue into Friday and even the weekend, based on how things are moving forward.

Representing the NFL were Commissioner Roger Goodell and a majority of the 10-man labor committee -- Carolina Panthers owner/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 included NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and general counsel Richard Berthelsen, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, and retirees Sean Morey, Don Davis and Pete Kendall.

All of those league and player figures have been involved in the process since pre-lockout, court-mediated negotiations in Washington. One new face Wednesday was Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Tyson Clabo, who will help represent the interests of the hundreds of pending free agents affected by the rules that will govern the post-lockout weeks.

Sessions the first two days of this week were productive, as the parties' lawyers worked to nail down language for necessary elements of a potential deal.

The parties have been ordered to meet at U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan's chambers Tuesday in Minneapolis, with counsel and figures in attendance carrying "full settlement authority." The hope is that an agreement in principle will have been reached by that date and the process of settling the outstanding litigation can be addressed.

Some internal deadlines have been set at July 15 as the date to have an agreement in order to save the preseason in its normal 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 Aug. 7 Hall of Fame Game between those teams hasn't been canceled.

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