NFLPA chief echoes commissioner's sentiments on labor deal

NEW ORLEANS -- NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith agreed with recent comments made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that it would be in the best interest of all parties to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the current deal expires in March.

"The players of the National Football League would love to have a deal done in November," Smith said Thursday before the season-opening game between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. "The players will want a deal done before March."

A multitude of issues need to be resolved, but one clearly at the forefront of the players' consciousness is the possibility of losing health-care benefits should a deal not be reached before the current deal expires.

"Players and their families' health care, as we know it, will end in March with a lockout," Smith said. "The league has not told us that they will guarantee player and family health care in the event of a lockout."

Smith said the NFLPA and league officials will meet again in the near future, but he didn't say if the frequency of negotiations would increase with both sides publicly stating the need to reach a labor pact before the 2011 season could be disrupted.

The tenor of negotiations seems to be more amicable, with Smith saying his and Goodell's relationship is "excellent" and that the NFLPA respected the owners' recently decision to collectively bargain the possibility of an 18-game regular seasons instead of trying to unilaterally implement such a change.

"I think that is where we should be prior to when a deal is set," Smith said. "We should be sitting down and exchanging information and working hard to guarantee this game continues not only for our fans but for our players."

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