NFL, union to resume mediation Tuesday

Updated: March 8, 2011, 8:22 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Trying to work their way to a new labor deal, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith resumed negotiations for four hours Monday.

With both sides adhering to mediator George Cohen's admonition that they not discuss the talks publicly, it wasn't clear how much -- if any -- progress was made in the shorter-than-usual session. The only sure thing: The sides planned to meet again Tuesday.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who's out of the country in Israel on a trade mission with the governor of Massachusetts, believes there could be a deal struck this week.

"We're doing everything we can to get a deal consummated," Kraft said to Comcast Sports New England on Monday. "I personally believe it's possible ...

"[The] good news is, it's always good to be talking when you have differences of opinion. It's the only way you have a chance [to reach an agreement]. So we're talking, and I know from ownership's side that we feel there's a deal to be made and we'd very much like to do it."

Kraft said he is constant phone contact with Goodell, but would leave the trip early if necessary.

When talks resume Tuesday, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt will be present for the discussions, a source familiar with the process told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. New York Giants owner John Mara was part of Monday's talks, a source said.

The current collective bargaining agreement originally was set to expire last week, but two extensions have now pushed the cutoff to the end of Friday. After months of infrequent formal negotiations and plenty of acrimony, the sides have spent 12 days at the Federal Mediation Conciliation Service, but they still remain apart on key economic issues.

What will happen the rest of this week is still anyone's guess. If a deal isn't reached, the sides could agree to yet another extension and negotiate beyond Friday. Or talks could break off, leading to, possibly, a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.

The NFL has not lost games to a work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century, and by agreeing to continue with mediation, the league and union made it clear neither was quite ready to make the drastic move of shutting down a sport that rakes in more than $9 billion a year in revenues and is more popular than ever. The past two Super Bowls rank No. 1 and No. 2 among most-watched TV programs in U.S. history.

The old CBA was agreed to in 2006, and owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008, leading to the current stalemate.

Money, not surprisingly, is at the center of the standoff.

In addition to the owners' proposal Thursday, the union also has made concessions in the latest negotiations, sources on both sides told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. The details of those concessions are unknown.

Earlier Friday, sources familiar with the process told Schefter that the sides narrowed the financial gap between them by roughly $5 million per team per year. Nevertheless, a significant divide exists -- roughly $25 million per team per year. With 32 teams in the league, the gap equates to $750 million to $800 million per year.

The key issues all along have been:

• How to divide revenues, including what cut team owners should get up front to help cover costs such as stadium construction and improvement. Under the old deal, owners received about $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to add another $1 billion to that.

• A rookie wage scale, and where money saved by teams under that system would go.

• Benefits for retired players.

• The owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games.

For the players to agree to a longer regular season, they would want substantial reductions in offseason workouts, minicamps and training camp. Should they get that, and if Smith can coax, say, five extra roster spots per team (160 more jobs), perhaps the league and union could find common ground on that issue.

Still, as Washington Redskins union representative Vonnie Holliday explained succinctly last week: "There's been some progress made. There's still a ways to go on major issues."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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