NFL, locked-out players wrap up talks for now

The NFL and its locked-out players wrapped up their fourth day

of court-ordered talks Wednesday with few signs of progress and no

plans to meet again until mid-May.

Executive vice president Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead negotiator,

said U.S. Judge Magistrate Arthur Boylan told both sides they

probably won’t convene again until May 16 because he has a few

other matters on his judicial calendar.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is expected to decide

well before then on the players’ request for an injunction to

immediately lift the lockout, now in its 40th day. Her decision

will almost certainly be appealed, but it could give the winning

side leverage as the clock ticks on the 2011 season.

Also coming up: U.S. District Judge David Doty on May 12 is

scheduled to hear the players’ request for damages after he ruled

in March that the NFL did not maximize revenues for both sides when

it renegotiated $4 billion in TV contracts with the labor dispute

looming.

”There’s a lot of uncertainties right now,” Pash said. ”I

think when we’re back together we’ll know more. People’s legal

positions will be clearer.”

Both sides said the sessions with Boylan were positive and

productive.

”I think everybody believes it was helpful and that’s really

where we are,” said Jim Quinn, an attorney for the players.

Hall of Fame player Carl Eller agreed.

”I do feel very positive about the 2011 season,” Eller said.

”I think everybody has come here with the idea to have a 2011

season and it’s just not been easy to get to that point. So I think

everybody’s been working hard toward that goal. Seeing them work to

that end makes me much more optimistic. I would certainly say we’re

going to have a 2011 season.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is planning to

start the season on time despite the lengthy process of navigating

the legal system.

”We’re planning to play a full season and we’re going to

negotiate as hard as we can to get that done,” Goodell told Giants

season-ticket holders in a conference call during a break in

mediation session at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.

Goodell, Packers CEO Mark Murphy, Falcons President Rich McKay

and owners Pat Bowlen of Denver, Jerry Jones from Dallas and Jerry

Richardson from Carolina attended Wednesday’s session. Players Ben

Leber and Mike Vrabel were joined by Eller and attorneys for the

players.

Goodell said all parties involved remain committed to ending the

NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.

”I think fans want solutions. I want solutions,” he said. ”I

think the players want solutions and I think the teams want

solutions. That’s why we have to be working at it in negotiations

and figuring out how to get to that point.”

Players including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning

filed the injunction request along with a class-action antitrust

lawsuit against the NFL. The lawsuit has been combined with two

other similar claims from retirees, former players and

rookies-to-be, with Eller the lead plaintiff in that group.

Nelson ordered the two sides into mediation while she considered

the request and the two sides met with Boylan following 16 days of

failed talks in front of a federal mediator in Washington.

”I think you can’t sort of measure this like a stock table in

what’s going up or down on any given day but it’s always a positive

to be able to talk to people,” Pash said.

Pash said he felt the talks were particularly productive between

the league and retired players, and that the owners remain

committed to improving benefits and taking care of their former

players.

The league and players disagree sharply on how to divide more

than $9 billion in annual revenue.

The owners initially wanted to double the money they get off the

top for expenses from about $1 billion to about $2 billion, but

that number dropped during the first round of mediation. The

players have insisted on full financial disclosure from all 32

teams, and so far the league has not opened the books to their

liking.

Other major issues include benefits for retired players and the

NFL’s desire to stretch the regular season from 16 to 18 games. The

NFL also wants to cut almost 60 percent of guaranteed pay for

first-round draft picks, lock them in for five years and divert the

savings to veterans’ salaries and benefits.

More than $525 million went to first-rounders in guaranteed

payments in 2010. The league wants to decrease that figure by $300

million, according to documents obtained by The Associated

Press.

The Sports Business Journal reported Wednesday that a group of

about 70 ”mid-tier” players was considering hiring a law firm to

get a seat at the mediation table, upset that the talks broke off

last month.

DeMaurice Smith, the head of the players’ trade association,

said he was unaware of the report. Vrabel said he had not heard of

the report, either, but ”they do have a seat, with Ben and

me.”

The NFL released its regular season schedule Tuesday night,

announcing that the season will open on Thursday, Sept. 8, with the

Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans

Saints.

That’s less than five months away, with free agency, trades and

other roster decisions still up in the air while the lockout is in

place.

The announcement of the schedule came with a big if, of course.

The longer the labor strife drags through the court system, the

more danger is posed to actual games being canceled.

AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.