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Union moving close to picking Upshaw's successor as executive director

TAMPA, Fla. -- The NFL players' union plans to pick a successor for the late Gene Upshaw early this year and sees no reason to expect a lockout in two years.

Owners are opting out of the current labor deal after the 2010 season, but the union said it didn't anticipate trouble.

"This is a good thing we have going on between the players and owners," president Kevin Mawae said Thursday in the NFL Players Association's first news conference since Upshaw died in August. "The players don't feel we have to get to that point."

The five finalists to replace Upshaw as executive director, as reported last week by The Associated Press, are former NFLPA presidents Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong; former Chicago Bears tackle Jim Covert; Ben Utt, who played for the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts; and Washington-based attorney DeMaurice Smith.

Mawae, the All-Pro center for the Tennessee Titans, said three candidates will be presented to the union's executive board at its annual meeting in Hawaii in March. An election is scheduled to follow, and serious negotiating with the league won't take place before then.

"What Gene would have wanted most was for us to carry on with the business of the union," said acting executive director Richard Berthelsen, the players' longtime counsel. "Our mission is to not only retain the partnership we have with NFL owners, but improve on it.

"We have seen unprecedented labor peace in our sport and unprecedented prosperity together with the owners. We think have a pretty good thing going," he added.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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