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NFL, players seek return of talks

WASHINGTON -- A day after the judge handling the NFL lockout lawsuit urged the sides to go "back to the table," the players and owners expressed a willingness to do so. The hitch: Each side offered to meet for talks in a setting the other finds unpalatable.

A lawyer representing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and other players suing the NFL wrote U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson on Thursday to say they're willing to engage in mediation overseen by her federal court in St. Paul, Minn. And NFL executive vice president Jeffrey Pash sent a letter to another lawyer representing players, James Quinn, with a copy going to Nelson, proposing to resume talks -- in the Washington office of federal mediator George Cohen.

Since filing suit March 11, the players repeatedly have said they only are interested in meeting with the league to discuss settling the litigation. And since the lockout began at midnight that night, the NFL repeatedly has said it only is interested in returning to mediated bargaining.

So, yesterday's letters don't represent meaningful progress.

"We are prepared to resume discussions as promptly as possible and to have significant ownership involvement in those discussions. Our thought would be to resume discussions under the auspices of George Cohen and his colleagues at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service," wrote Pash, the league's lead labor negotiator. "After spending the better part of three weeks with us, they know the issues, they know the parties and I think we all agree that they were effective at getting both sides to look openly at each other's positions and try to find solutions."

Cohen mediated 16 days of negotiations in February and March that failed to result in a new collective bargaining agreement, and the old one expired. The union dissolved, saying it no longer represented players in bargaining under labor law, which allowed them to sue the league under antitrust law. Owners locked out the players, creating the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.

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