- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

The NFL and its players met for a third straight day of mediation that was not scheduled to begin until next week.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners were joined Thursday by NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith and a group of players before a U.S. magistrate judge.

When it ended, the NFLPA issued a statement that “the parties met pursuant to court mediation. Owners and players were engaged in confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge (Arthur) Boylan. The court has ordered continued confidentiality of the mediation sessions.”

Two people with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press the sessions from Tuesday and Wednesday resumed Thursday morning near Chicago. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were supposed to be secret. Another person said they ended at about midday.

One person says various issues are being discussed, but “to characterize it as progress might not be accurate.” Boylan was to resume mediation June 7 in Minneapolis, but got the sides together early.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft were among those on hand. However, not all of the 32 league owners were made aware of the meetings before they began.

In the past, that has been a step toward successful negotiations between the league and NFLPA. Such clandestine meetings between former union executive director Gene Upshaw and former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue often led to progress on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“Both sides understand there needs to be a timetable toward getting an agreement,” one person said. “There’s hope this will speed up that timetable.”

A hearing in St. Louis on the NFL’s appeal of a ruling blocking its lockout begins Friday. Lifting the lockout was delayed by an appeals panel until the full appeal could be heard. Goodell, Smith and several owners are expected to be in court Friday.

But the 8th District’s Court of Appeals is not expected to rule on the legality of the lockout for weeks. So a resumption of talks in the interim could speed a deal.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said last week he believed some decisions on opening training camps in late July needed to be made by July 4.

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