Union postpones agent meeting as mediated talks continue

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFLPA met for another eight hours at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on Tuesday, getting through the fifth of seven days scheduled with mediator George S. Cohen.

The union also postponed a scheduled summit with select agents at the scouting combine on Thursday, clearing the calendar somewhat for the final scheduled day with the mediator. Players association officials still will hold their mandatory meeting for all player agents in Indianapolis on Friday.

Tuesday's talks brought the tally for five days up to about 38 hours of meetings between the sides, but union spokesman George Atallah was quick to dismiss any public characterization of "what's going on in the negotiating room" as "pure speculation."

In addition to the final day scheduled before Cohen -- who has a prior commitment set for Friday -- Thursday is also the day that Judge David S. Doty will hear the networks rights fees case in Minneapolis, a pivotal one in these labor negotiations.

NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler left Tuesday's session early to fly to Minneapolis in advance of hearings, saying "I gotta focus on Minnesota, but I'll be back."

The sides, per Cohen's request, remained mum on the details of Tuesday's negotiations on their way out of the negotiating sessions.

Chicago Bears player rep Hunter Hillenmeyer, headed for the airport, said, "You guys will just speculate too much on what I say." NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman also declined comment on the meetings, but did say that, "I've worked with George Cohen for years, know him well. He's a first-class mediator."

The two sides will meet again on Wednesday, and Kessler called the talks "ongoing."

NFL officials were first to arrive Tuesday, with general counsel Jeff Pash and Batterman arriving in the 8 a.m. ET hour. Just after 9 a.m., Commissioner Roger Goodell came on foot.

Union executive director DeMaurice Smith arrived just before 10 a.m., leading the last group into the building, but the NFLPA entourage was a bit different on Tuesday. Executive committee members Charlie Batch, Tony Richardson and Scott Fujita, who were took part in talks over the weekend, left Washington on Monday night.

"Things are going well right now," Batch said, while climbing into a car bound for the airport Monday afternoon. "We'll see how things progress over the last couple of days. … Any time that you're talking, you have to feel better."

Two active players have arrived in the departed players' places. Hillenmeyer, an active voice on the concussion issue, was at the meetings on Monday and again on Tuesday, and executive committee member Domonique Foxworth, a Baltimore Ravens cornerback, walked with Smith into the FMCS building on Tuesday.

On the league side, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen was with the legal team.

The NFL and NFLPA agreed to the federal mediation on Thursday, and logged a total of more than 27 hours in the first four days of sessions. The current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3.

The league also has meetings scheduled on March 2 and 3 in Northern Virginia near D.C.

After months of infrequent and sometimes contentious bargaining, the league and union have been communicating face-to-face since Friday.

They agreed to try mediation in a bid to find common ground before the current labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3. The union has said it believes team owners want to lock out the players as soon as the next day, which could threaten the 2011 season.

The NFLPA's memo putting off the scheduled meeting with agents at the NFL combine this week in Indianapolis was confirmed by Atallah after being first reported Tuesday by SportsBusiness Journal.

The meeting was postponed until Friday.

The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once the next week, then called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.

The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: a rookie wage scale; the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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