Owners reiterate belief in talks, not litigation, with players

INDIANAPOLIS -- Labor discussion dominated the first day of the NFL Spring Meeting on Tuesday after changes to player-safety rules and the cancellation of the rookie symposium were cleared from the itinerary.

With the league well into the third month of its work stoppage, and with pending court rulings looming overhead, some owners articulated a heightened sense of urgency with the clock ticking toward the 2011 season.

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Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay reiterated that he believes an agreement is necessary by early July to stage a normal preseason with complete training camps and a full schedule of games. He urged his peers to respect the importance of that phase of the season.

"You don't want to get a deal Oct. 1 (that) you could've had July 20 or July 10," Irsay said. "I think it's really getting in the mindset that for players and owners to get out of litigation in the courts and realize it's time to get something done so we can have a full season."

The league will wrap up the meeting Wednesday with what's expected to be a half day of sessions. Next on the calendar is the NFL's reply to the players' brief filed last week, due Thursday with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the appeal of the lockout-lifting injunction. After that comes the injunction appeal hearing, scheduled for June 3 in St. Louis.

The next set of negotiations between the players and owners is the third phase of court-ordered mediation that will take place in Minnesota on June 7-8. NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said "our goal will be to have the kinds of discussions that can lead to a comprehensive solution."

"I think that anything that happens, anything we can do to push that process forward, we're in favor of," New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said. "We're working hard to try and put ourselves in a position where we can get back to negotiating table and hammer out a deal with our players. We want our players back. We didn't sign on for this to lock out players and to have a labor dispute with the people we've enjoyed working with all these years."

The NFL contends that it's already suffering losses on the business side as a result of the lockout. Pash addressed the possibility that such losses could adversely affect what the league is offering to the players and consequently damage the talks.

"We are cognizant of what is happening on the revenue side," he said. "It's why I've said, and many others have said, this doesn't get easier with time. This doesn't get better with time. It gets more challenging. ...

"I think any labor settlement is going to have to reflect what the economics are and what the economics can reasonably project to be. For everyone's benefit, the benefit of the players, the benefit of the clubs, we should have a shared incentive to get this accomplished sooner rather than later."

Pash also raised the possibility of including "true-ups" -- which help reflect the league's financial growth in the players' take -- in a new collective bargaining agreement. The issue of "true-ups" was a stumbling block in the early March talks that broke off, leading to the lockout.

That could represent compromise, a subject that Pash consistently brought up during his half-hour news conference.

"If there is that kind of a shared commitment and shared recognition, what is available for players, for fans, for clubs, for retired players, (and) I don't think there's any limit to what we can accomplish," Pash said. "But we've got to stop thinking of it as a binary equation -- one side wins, one side loses. That's not the way to look at it. We have to be figure out how everybody advances, how everybody wins, how everybody is better off. I really believe we can do that."

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