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NFL, NFLPA reps meet for fourth day of mediated discussions

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFLPA met for a fourth consecutive day on Monday, logging seven hours at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service before mediator George S. Cohen.

The two sides have now met for approximately 27 hours since arriving here last Friday.

Monday was a bit different in that the arrivals of the parties were staggered. The league side started to show at 8 a.m. ET, with commissioner Roger Goodell in the building just after 9 a.m. The union started the morning by meeting at its 20th Street office, before arriving en masse with executive director DeMaurice Smith just before 11 a.m.

Smith came with Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, one of four active players at Monday's talks. Fujita and two other executive committee members -- Jets fullback Tony Richardson and Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch -- left at about 5 p.m. to catch flights. Meanwhile, Bears player rep Hunter Hillenmeyer, active in the NFLPA on labor and concussion issues, arrived on Monday to take part in the meetings.

"Things are going well right now," Batch said, while climbing in a limo. "We'll see how things progress over the last couple of days.

Added Batch: "Any time that you're talking, you have to feel better."

Smith and the union contingent left through the front door of the FMCS shortly after 6 p.m. When asked for comment, and to follow up on Batch's remarks, Smith deflected questions and joked by answering each one with an assessment of the D.C. weather.

Goodell was not spotted leaving the building, but security said the building was clear at 6:15 p.m.

Also in attendance were NFL general counsel Jeffrey Pash, NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, and retired players Sean Morey, a member of the executive committee, and Pete Kendall, the union's permanent player rep.

Both sides, per Cohen's request, have been operating under a code of silence on the details of the meeting. The NFL and NFLPA agreed to the federal mediation last Thursday, and logged a total of more than 20 hours of meetings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3.

The plan is for this set of meetings to go through Thursday, with the clock ticking to the expiration of the CBA. Union chiefs will meet with player agents at a mandatory summit at the NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, and the league has meetings scheduled on March 2 and 3 in Northern Virginia near D.C.

The players believe that team owners are preparing to lock them out as soon as March 4, which could threaten the 2011 season.

News of the start of mediation could be a positive sign after several months of infrequent negotiations -- and frequent rhetoric, including charges from each side that the other was hoping for a work stoppage.

"Anytime that you're talking, you have to feel better," Batch said Monday.

The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again last week but called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.

The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games, a rookie wage scale and benefits for retired players.

Cohen was involved in Major League Soccer's negotiations with its players' union last year, when a possible work stoppage was avoided.

He was the baseball players' association's lead lawyer in federal court in 1995, when the National Labor Relations Board obtained an injunction against owners from then-District Judge -- and now Supreme Court Justice -- Sonia Sotomayor that led players to end their strike, which lasted more than seven months.

The FMCS was involved in negotiations during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and in a 2005 dispute between the U.S. Soccer Federation and national team players.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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