NFLPA still hoping for deal as clock ticks down

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - NFL teams want to ignore the clock and keep it business at this week’s annual scouting combine.

With the league’s collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of Thursday and the looming lockout less than a week away, the hype over this year’s top draft prospects has suddenly been overshadowed by talk about contingency plans, mediation and unification.

It’s a whole new universe for the NFL, which hasn’t had a work stoppage since 1987.

“Free agency doesn’t start until the new league year, and if there’s no league year, you can’t sign any free agents,” agent Tom Condon explained Friday.

The warning signs have been all over Indianapolis over the last two days.

On Thursday, league officials met with coaches and general managers to discuss different scenarios and lockout rules.

On Friday, it was DeMaurice Smith’s turn. The NFL Players Association executive director spent two hours meeting with agents and answering questions, left for lunch and then returned for the afternoon session.

Before walking in, he sent a clear message about the players’ desire.

“We want a deal and our hope is it will get done as quickly as possible,” he said.

It was a rare comment from Smith who, like league negotiators, has abided the request of federal mediator George Cohen not to comment publicly on the discussions. The two sides spent seven straight days working on the deal before Friday. Talks are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

The union even took the unusual step Friday of letting four prominent agents make the players’ case.

Condon, Ben Dogra, Drew Rosenhaus and Joel Segal stood side-by-side, presenting a unified front with Smith and his hopes. The agents represent some of the league’s biggest names, including brothers Peyton and Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Terrell Owens and Adrian Peterson.

“We are 100 percent behind Dee Smith and my clients are 100 percent behind Dee Smith,” Rosenhaus said. “He’s doing everything he can to get a fair deal with the owners.”

Stranger still has been the awkwardness of the combine and talk of a lockout occurring simultaneously just blocks away from the site of next year’s Super Bowl, which some city residents fear could be lost because of a work stoppage.

And then there are the NFL prospects showing off their talents for interested teams.

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