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NFL, players 'serious' about mediation, will continue Tuesday

MINNEAPOLIS -- The first set of face-to-face negotiations between the NFL and the players in more than a month lasted 14 total hours.

The hope is that it can be the basis for a lot more.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan adjourned talks until Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT, following nearly 10 hours of negotiations Thursday and another four Friday at the federal courthouse.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Friday that the break is happening this early partly because of the sensitivity of the negotiations and the need for the judge to be methodical and deliberate. Another source said all parties appear to be "serious" about these talks ordered by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson and the potential consequences if they break down.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell led a league contingent that included New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II and Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay. Representing the plantiffs in the Brady et al v. National Football League et al case was NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and two current NFL linebackers, Mike Vrabel of the Chiefs and Ben Leber of the Minnesota Vikings.

Smith wouldn't comment on the talks, which started at 9:30 a.m. and wrapped up around 1:30 p.m., but he appeared to be in a good mood. According to The Associated Press, Smith needled Vrabel by deadpanning to media members inside a packed elevator on the way down to the lobby, "All right, in all seriousness, Mike is going to have a statement. You ready?"

All that followed was silence, then laughter.

Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, the lead plaintiff in the Eller et al v. National Football League et al lawsuit that was combined with the Brady case, did talk about the mediation, saying on his way out, "I think we're moving forward, but I think it slowed a little bit." Eller added that everyone was sent home with things to think about -- "homework" in his words.

"The judge asked us to provide answers to over a half-dozen question that he's asked," said Michael Hausfeld, lead attorney for the Eller class. "There's a lot of work."

The talks marked the first time the sides sat down since March 11, when the collective bargaining agreement expired, the union dissolved to clear the way for a court fight and the NFL locked out players for its first work stoppage since the 24-day strike in 1987.

Eller didn't mince words when explaining what's on the line in these negotiations.

"We're dealing with real issues, and that is the lockout and the upcoming season," he said. "Those things are prevalent. Those are not luxuries or frivolous debt lines or points. These things are happening and approaching, and those things will approach.

"Tomorrow is going to come regardless of what we do here, so we have to work within that framework. In order to have a season, preserve a season, prepare for a season, those are real consequences."

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Thursday's 10-hour session brought "tough" negotiations, and some "fence-mending" from prior events was necessary.

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"The magistrate judge is working very hard, and I give him a lot of credit for trying to move the parties towards a solution," said NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, the league's lead negotiator, upon his departure Thursday.

Nelson ordered this mediation Monday after hearing the players' motion for an injunction to lift the lockout. Nelson said she would rule on the injunction "in due course" and the talks wouldn't serve as a de facto stay on that ruling.

Nelson also implored the sides to have people with decision-making power in the room. There is no time frame on the talks, but Hausfeld said Thursday that the judge indicated they would go "as long as it makes sense."

The sides met separately with Boylan in preparation for Thursday's opening session, with the league coming to his chambers Tuesday and the players following suit Wednesday. The meetings were intended to educate Boylan on the arguments of each side as he readied to preside over the mediation.

Although Boylan will have an open line of communication with Nelson, these proceedings are his. He will not be required to report to Nelson, who has offered both sides protection, in that the mediation cannot be used against either party in any other case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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