- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - NFL training camps are beckoning and kickoff for the real games is not far behind.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith resumed talks Thursday aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement and ending a lockout nearly four months old. Unlike talks earlier this week, this time the two were joined by owners and players.

Meeting with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan at a Minneapolis law firm were a handful of owners _ John Mara of the New York Giants, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots _ and players including Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts, Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens.

The latest round of negotiations between the two sides _ the fifth since they began hopping from city to city for clandestine meetings _ kicked off Tuesday with Goodell, Smith, their attorneys and staffs.

This location is significant because Minneapolis is where the players have filed a still-pending federal antitrust suit against the owners. The two sides met here for six days of court-ordered mediation under Boylan in April and May.

The July 4 holiday weekend has been floated by some of the members of their respective parties as a rough target for a deal, and that time has nearly arrived.

Owners and players are seeking a deal that would divide revenues for the $9 billion business _ the biggest hurdle to clear _ and guide league activities for years to come.

John Hancock Jr., a labor lawyer in Detroit for the firm Butzel Long, said he believes an agreement could be reached soon, perhaps early next week. He said one sign of progress was the smaller Tuesday meeting and the lack of details and updates being shared.

Goodell and Smith took questions from rookies at an orientation in Sarasota, Fla., Wednesday, but they didn’t offer specifics.

The recent cordiality and unity, at least in public, between the two power brokers is also suggestive, Hancock said.

“I think there’s a deal already in place, and they’re just drafting the language,” he said. “Both of them seemed relaxed. Both of them seemed amiable to one another. This did not look like two guys who are going to continue this strife much longer.”

Smith invited Goodell to the orientation symposium for NFL rookies _ put on by the players’ association after the NFL canceled the event _ and the pair flew to Florida on Tuesday night. After a joint breakfast Wednesday, they talked for an hour with 155 rookies before returning to Minnesota.

Smith and Goodell certainly seem closer than when the lockout began March 12 and the hope is that it leads to a new deal soon. Training camps are scheduled to open in three weeks with the Hall of Fame exhibition game on Aug. 7.

Since players don’t get their regular paychecks until the regular season and revenue for the league revolves heavily around Sunday games, the financial urgency arguably hasn’t arrived.

Rookies need to start learning their playbooks, though, and teams need free agency to arrange their rosters. Plus, a 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel is still weighing a final decision the legality of the lockout.

“The 8th Circuit is not going to wait forever to issue their opinion,” Hancock said. “Who knows what they’re going to do, but I’d imagine they’ve already got their opinion written and they’re just waiting to see if they can reach an agreement.”


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