Retired players won’t block NFL labor deal

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Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller thinks a deal to end the NFL lockout will be reached this week - and says retired players won’t stand in the way of an agreement.

Eller and lawyers for retired NFL players joined labor talks for about seven hours Tuesday in New York as signs mounted the dispute might almost be over. After leaving the negotiations, Eller headed to a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

“They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That’s their focus,” Eller said. “Our issues are very, very critical — very important — but they don’t really have much to do with whether the game goes on or not.”

He said “there’s still a lot more to be done” when it comes to benefits for former players, but that could be resolved after the main dispute is settled.

The court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, also was at the session, his second consecutive day overseeing negotiations. Owners and players were trying to close a deal to resolve the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.

The NFL Players Association’s executive committee met in Washington on Tuesday to prepare for possible votes on an agreement in principle. Representatives of all 32 teams were supposed to arrive by Wednesday.

“The grass is cut, but the hay is not in the barn yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said.

Owners, meanwhile, are set to hold a meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, when they could ratify a new deal. Executives from all 32 teams then would be briefed there Thursday and Friday on how the terms would affect league business. Clubs were told topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions.

Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith planned to stay in regular contact.

Still unresolved is what it will take to get the 10 plaintiffs — including quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson and New England guard Logan Mankins — to sign off on a settlement to their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL that is pending in federal court in Minnesota.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the NFL and the players suing the league submitted a joint filing to the court, asking for an extra week to file written arguments “to allow them to focus on the continuing mediation.” Tuesday’s request, which was granted in the afternoon, noted that “the parties have also been meeting regularly since April 11, 2011, in an effort to resolve their disputes.”

Also pending is the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in “lockout insurance.”

Another issue said to be standing in the way of a resolution to the lockout: Players want owners to turn over $320 million in unpaid benefits from the 2010 season. Because there was no salary cap that season, the old collective bargaining agreement said NFL teams weren’t required to pay those benefits.

On a separate matter, a proposal under consideration would set up nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years in additional benefits for retired players. That would include $620 million in pension increases, long-term care insurance and disability programs.

Retired players complained to the court recently that they had been excluded from negotiations, which is why Eller’s presence was significant.

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