- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Washington Redskins on Tuesday morning welcomed a surprise guest to their players-only practice. DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the decertified NFL Players Association, showed up to preach solidarity to players and update them about the ongoing labor battle.

“It’s important to hear what we have going on on the players’ side of this lockout,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “People ask me all the time what’s going on with the lockout, what’s the deal, and the real answer is I don’t know. So I was excited to see what ‘D’ had to say and see where we are.”

Smith declined to speak to reporters, a rarity considering both sides have spent the better part of the calendar year trying to spread their message.

However, players said Smith stressed the importance of unity and updated them about upcoming litigation. He addressed the group of 41 players for about 15 minutes after practice concluded.

Asked if Smith told them anything that could spawn optimism about a resolution to the labor battle, Cooley indicated that uncertainty still prevails.

“Almost word for word is best-case, worst-case: Best case is that we could get a deal done in two days. Worst case we miss football,” he said.

Although Smith didn’t provide concrete answers about when the NFL will resume business or when they can expect a paycheck, players believed it was helpful to see their leader in person and interact with him.

“Especially for guys who are not connected,” special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander said. “I’m really connected with ‘D’ and [NFLPA regional director] Tom Carter … but rookies and young guys who aren’t really around him, you hear things on Twitter and Facebook. It’s good to hear it from the man, the guy from the top, so that you have a sense of comfort during the lockout and you know what their plan is.”

Alexander said that Smith emphasized June 3 as the next important milestone in the labor fight. That’s when the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the owners’ appeal of a lower court’s decision to lift the lockout. The appeals court recently issued a stay on that ruling until the hearing.

Smith expects a ruling approximately two to three weeks after the June 3 hearing, players said.

“It was good because we had questions,” quarterback John Beck said. “I wanted some questions answered. It was really just the uncertainty - what’s the timetable? As players, you don’t really know.”

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