NFL and players: We’re making progress

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NEW YORK (AP) - The NFL and its players are making progress on a deal to restart pro football and save the 2011 season.

At the end of three long days at the negotiating table, the league and the players’ association issued a joint statement Friday saying, “The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues.”

The sides’ legal and financial teams will continue to work over the weekend, and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith says he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will talk or meet again in the next couple of days.

The two sides are scheduled to head to Minneapolis early next week, where they will meet with mediator and U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

After a four-month lockout, the players and owners moved ahead this week on issues including rookie contracts and a salary cap.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) _ Significant progress on a major sticking point in the NFL labor impasse _ soaring rookie salaries _ during marathon talks Thursday raised hopes that a tentative agreement in principle could perhaps come within 24 hours, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

They cautioned, however, that other key issues remained for owners and players to resolve, including free agency and new offseason workout rules.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations aimed at ending the NFL’s four-month-long lockout are supposed to be confidential.

After meeting for nearly 15 hours Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith, players and owners were back at the negotiating table Friday as they attempted to end the sport’s first work stoppage since 1987.

“I know our fans are frustrated and want (us) to get it done,” Smith said as he entered the Times Square office building where the negotiations were being held. “We’ll get everything to the players when the time is right.”

Talks gained steam in May, overseen by a court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who is on vacation this week. Boylan ordered both sides to meet with him in Minneapolis early next week, and the owners have a special meeting set for next Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal.

Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a class-action antitrust lawsuit pending in federal court and the NFLPA’s 32 team representatives.

Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth emphasized that when the last of the participants left after 11:30 p.m. Thursday, saying “there’s really no deal until our players approve it.”

Even once an agreement in principle on the core economic issues is drawn up, there will be more work to be done. That’s because there are certain issues that won’t be addressed in full until after the NFLPA re-establishes itself as a union _ a process that might take a couple of days _ and can then serve once again as a collective bargaining unit for the players.

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