NFL owners, players end secret meeting

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The NFL and its players completed three straight days of not-so-secret ''confidential settlement discussions'' on Thursday and now head to an appeals court in St. Louis.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners were joined by NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith and a group of players before a U.S. magistrate judge. Both sides then issued statements saying they were ''engaged in confidential discussions'' before Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan and were ordered to maintain confidentiality.

The 8th U.S. District Court then canceled mediation sessions scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday in Minneapolis.

Two people with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press the sessions from Tuesday and Wednesday resumed Thursday morning near Chicago. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were supposed to be secret. Another person said they ended at about midday.

One person says various issues were discussed, but ''to characterize it as progress might not be accurate.''

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and New York Giants owner John Mara were among those on hand. Not all the 32 team owners were made aware of the meetings before they began. Jones said it simply was good to be talking again.

In the past, that clandestine approach has been a step toward successful negotiations between the league and NFLPA. Such meetings between former union executive director Gene Upshaw and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue often led to progress on a new collective bargaining agreement.

''Both sides understand there needs to be a timetable toward getting an agreement,'' one of the people with knowledge of the talks said. ''There's hope this will speed up that timetable.''

The hearing in St. Louis on the NFL's appeal of a ruling blocking its lockout begins Friday. Lifting the lockout was delayed by an appeals panel until the full appeal could be heard. Goodell, Smith and several owners are expected to be in court Friday.

But the 8th District's Court of Appeals is not expected to rule on the legality of the lockout for weeks. So a resumption of talks in the interim could speed a deal, and the cancellation of the mediation sessions could indicate more meetings like those in the Chicago suburbs the last three days are on tap.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said last week he believed some decisions on opening training camps in late July needed to be made by July 4.

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