NFL, Players Will Meet Through Weekend to Reach Labor Agreement

The National Football League and its players said they will meet through the weekend as they make progress toward a new contract to end a four-month-old lockout.

A joint statement issued after talks in New York City yesterday said contract negotiations this week “have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues.”

The sides also said legal and financial teams would work through the weekend, and that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and players association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith would meet or talk beginning today.

“We continue to have a lot of work to do,” Smith told reporters outside the law offices where the negotiations took place. “I know everybody is frustrated and they want a definitive answer. I hate to disappoint everyone but you’re not going to get one right now. We’re going to continue to work and I think that’s a positive sign.”

No details of the negotiations were released. The two sides have been ordered by federal Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan not to publically discuss specifics. The two sides are to meet with Boylan in Minnesota on July 19, three days before the first preseason training camps are set to open.

Two days ago negotiators were close to an agreement on a pay scale for rookie players, clearing a major obstacle toward reaching a new labor agreement in the U.S.’s most-popular sport, three people familiar with the talks said.

$9.3 Billion

Rookie compensation was the center of talks this week after the sides neared a deal on how to divide a projected $9.3 billion in revenue that would give just less than half to players, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because the talks are confidential.

The 2011 salary cap would be about $123 million per team, the NFL Network reported, about $5 million less than the 2009 limit. The 2010 season didn’t have a ceiling on team payrolls.

The sides have met in New York the last two weeks. Topics including safety, health care and workers compensation were being discussed, the people said.

Boylan set next week’s meeting before starting his vacation. NFL owners are scheduled to meet in a special session in Atlanta two days later, and could use that time to vote on a new collective bargaining package. Approval from 24 of 32 clubs is needed for ratification.

March Lockout

NFL owners locked out players in March. The players sued, behind Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, claiming antitrust violations and wage-fixing. A federal appeals court upheld the lockout last week, saying a lower court erred in blocking it.

The lockout came about five weeks after the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers attracted the largest U.S. television audience in history, capping a season watched by a record 207.7 million people, according to Neilsen Co. data.

Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief negotiator, said after a league meeting outside Chicago last month that reopening for business would require making sure legal documents are fully drafted and approved, then ratified by both sides. Owners and players also will have to seek approval from “various courts” to deal with litigation.

Pash said he didn’t know how long that may take. Once the sides reach a handshake agreement, owners and players will want to “move as quickly as we could,” he said.

Training camps for the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open July 22, with the teams slated to play the first preseason game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

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