Sources: Still much work to do in talks
At a time when many are waiting for and anticipating a deal between owners and the NFL Players Association, there was a point Tuesday when talks clearly regressed.
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One person close to the talks went so far as to say, "This almost blew up yesterday."
How close it got to that point is a matter of opinion. The moment may have come shortly after lawyers from both sides were brought back into the process at an undisclosed location in the Washington, D.C., area.
As tensions rose and anger grew, two sources said NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith instructed his lawyers to "stand down."
With lawyers removed from the direct negotiations, the process was said to be getting back on track and to be in a good spot. The scenario Tuesday is an example of how tenuous the talks can be and how quickly they can be derailed.
But it also is proof that Smith and the players and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners have taken the process out of the hands of the attorneys and demanded control to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement.
During winter negotiations, many around the league worried lawyers were controlling the process. But Tuesday's events are the strongest evidence to date they are not.
Lawyers will have to be involved in the final resolution, drawing up any agreement and signing off on what each side can and can't do. Any agreement would have to be presented to the judge in the case to be ratified.
Multiple sources familiar with the talks said progress is being made, but they cautioned there's "a lot of drama and a lot of room for mistakes left."
To say this is going to be done in two weeks, one source said, "is borderline insane."
The sides met again Wednesday in Maryland, in larger groups, and more meetings are expected next week.
The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement Wednesday afternoon acknowledging the talks.
"Discussions between NFL owners and players under the auspices of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan took place again this week and will continue. At the request of Judge Boylan, both sides have agreed to maintain the confidentiality of the substance of the talks," the statement said.
Representing the league at the talks, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, were Goodell and owners Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said representatives of the players included Smith, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens, Tony Richardson of the New York Jets, Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts and Brian Waters of the Chiefs.
"The general understanding from everybody is that if we don't have something done by July it would be hard to start on time," he said.
Adam Schefter is ESPN's NFL Insider. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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