Both sides mum after latest NFL bargaining session

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association
executive director DeMaurice Smith spent about 1 hour, 40 minutes
working on a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, then
left without saying a word.

Goodell eventually returned to the hotel lobby hours later,
after participating in the league’s competition committee meeting
and reiterated the league’s position of finishing a new deal before
the CBA expires in March 2011.

“It doesn’t pay to characterize everything,” Goodell said.
“They (the players) know our desire to get a deal done and we’ve
got to keep working to do that.”

The two sides held their latest round of negotiations in an
Indianapolis hotel ballroom as the league’s annual scouting combine
began. Goodell said the two sides discussed “setting up” another
meeting, but did not establish a date.

Thursday’s topics included the appeals process for
disciplinary actions and player safety issues, things Goodell
expressed interest in implementing before a deal is completed.

Goodell declined to discuss other topics on the agenda, but
said he remains hopeful the two sides will negotiate a deal before
the CBA expires.

“I think it’s natural that deadlines produce results, so I
think deadlines help,” he said. “I think there is a general desire
on both sides to get a deal. But I don’t think you can create
artificial deadlines.”

The first official deadline is March 5. If players and owners
do not reach an agreement by then, the league will have its first
non-salary cap season since 1993.

Goodell ruled out any chance of the owners agreeing to a
temporary one-year salary cap to avoid an uncapped season, saying
that’s the reason owners opted out of the previous deal in the
spring of 2008.

And it’s increasingly likely no deal will be finished by
then.

“I guess till you get to March 5, there’s always a chance,”
Goodell said.

But players are looking to a more ominous deadline next
March.

They believe no deal will lead to a lockout before the start
of the 2011 season. The union has instructed players to plan
appropriately so their families can have a similar lifestyle if
there is a lockout. Player reps and union officials declined
questions Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon.

Smith was joined at the negotiating table by several player
representatives including Jeff Saturday of Indianapolis and Mike
Vrabel of Kansas City. About 15 player reps also attended the
competition committee meeting.

Goodell brought a group of league executives to the
bargaining session, including executive vice president and general
counsel Jeff Pash.

The meeting was supposed to last about one hour but went
longer than expected.

Goodell appeared to be in good spirits when he entered the
room. He smiled and hugged one player before negotiations began.
When the session broke up, both sides came out expressionless.

The NFLPA also sent out a memo Tuesday saying it does not
expect a new deal to be in place by March 5 when free agents can
start signing with new teams.

Smith has said the sides have met more than 30 times in the
past six months.