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One day to go in mediated labor talks between NFL, union

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFLPA met for a sixth straight day with a federal mediator on Wednesday, with the course of events taking on a different pace than the previous five.

The sides have one scheduled day left with George S. Cohen at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, set for Thursday.

From Friday through Tuesday, and through some 38 hours of meetings, the NFL and NFLPA had stayed largely locked in the FMCS building, with only individuals trickling out from time to time. But on Wednesday, an NFLPA contingent numbering 12 -- that included executive director DeMaurice Smith and active players and union executive committee members Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Brian Waters and Brian Dawkins -- left the meetings at 3:15 p.m. ET.

Smith said the group was "taking a break until 5 (p.m.)" and headed for the NFLPA's 20th Street office, two blocks away. They returned at 4:45 p.m., and then left again, this time for good, less than an hour later.

In total, Wednesday's meetings encompassed an eight-hour span, giving the two sides a total of 46 hours together over the last five days.

Smith deflected questions on his way out, leaving with the group of players, and NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen departed minutes later. The league contingent left at 6:45 p.m., led by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, with commissioner Roger Goodell departing out of sight.

"I just can't say anything, I'm afraid of Mr. Cohen," Pash joked, referencing Cohen's gag order over the parties. "I'm just going to say 'no comment' and see you tomorrow morning."

The two sides agreed to federal mediation last Thursday and commenced before Cohen last Friday. The process was scheduled for seven days, and since Cohen has a prior commitment scheduled for this Friday, it's unlikely the mediation would go beyond that timeframe.

The union postponed until Friday a small meeting with high-level agents scheduled for Thursday in Indianapolis.

There will be a league meeting, though, on Thursday for high-ranking club officials, with head coaches, general managers, and a third team official of the club's choosing present, according to multiple league sources.

When asked about it, league spokesman Greg Aiello responded, via email, that "It happens every year. It's a normal part of the combine, which always has meetings galore. … It's not the first time. It's not a special meeting. An update on labor negotiations would be appropriate."

The meeting has garnered some buzz in NFL circles, though. When asked if it was unusual, one high-ranking club official responded that, "These are unusual times."

In addition to having the general manager and coach there, the official said the third man in would be likely, "your lead cap person or lead person on league matters, or team president."

One general manager said that he'd been present at such meetings at the combines in the past, and anticipated this one would "just be an update on procedures."

As for Wednesday in Washington, the lead people in the negotiations -- Goodell, Pash and outside counsel Bob Batterman for the NFL and Smith and general counsel Richard Berthelsen for the NFLPA -- were in attendance, absent NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler. Kessler left Tuesday night for Minnesota to deal with the networks rights fees case, which will be heard by Judge David Doty on Thursday. The outcome of the court case is another major event to deal with in the labor negotiations.

With Vrabel, Waters and Dawkins arriving, and Saturday returning, after attending the mediation over the week and leaving, nine of the 11 members of the NFLPA executive committee have now taken part in some part of the last six days in Washington. The only ones who haven't are NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

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