Lawyers are in spotlight at NFL's labor talks
NEW YORK — Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith will conduct NFL labor talks later this week after letting the lawyers handle paperwork for two days.
Attorneys for the NFL and the players' association are sorting out contract language and details that could speed the process in reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.
"The owners will not open the doors without a signed document in place," a person with knowledge of the talks said Tuesday. "So, this paperwork is important to get done."
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because a judge has directed that details of the court-ordered mediated negotiations not be disclosed.
The 1993 collective bargaining agreement was slowed by the volume of paperwork.
Tuesday's meeting lasted until late afternoon. Commissioner Goodell and NFLPA chief Smith were not at the meeting at a Manhattan law firm's headquarters.
On Thursday, Goodell and Smith will resume their discussions, with owners and players present. Those talks could last into the weekend if a new CBA appears imminent, the person with knowledge of the talks said. The sides didn't get together on weekends during negotiations over the past month.
Time is gradually becoming a factor in the discussions. Training camps for the Rams and Bears are scheduled to open in less than three weeks, and those teams are scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 7.
The rest of the training camps would open about a week later, with a full slate of preseason games set for the second weekend in August.
Talks hit a snag last week until U.S Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the court-appointed mediator, stepped in and got both sides "back on track," the person said. After some problems last Thursday in Minneapolis, a two-hour session Friday was productive.
A group of retired players filed a class-action complaint against the owners and current players in federal court Monday, saying they have been excluded from the mediation sessions taking place in an attempt to end the lockout. A federal court hearing on the retired players' case has been set for Aug. 8 in Minnesota.
Altogether 38 people, including 24 former players, were listed on the complaint, including Hall of Famers Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Carl Eller, Mike Haynes, Ron Mix, Paul Krause, Lem Barney, Elvin Bethea and Joe DeLamielleure.
The retired players weren't originally part of the litigation that began after labor talks broke down March 11, the players decertified their union and brought an antitrust lawsuit against the league. Hours later, on March 12, the NFL locked out the players.
DeLamielleure said his group should be part of the process, not excluded from it.
"The union is saying, DeMaurice Smith is saying, 'We are one team.' Well, they gave us a seat but no chair," DeLamielleure said. "We really have no say-so.
"Guess what: Those two guys are negotiating, the league and the union, without us again."
Jeff Nixon, another of the plaintiffs, said the retired players are asking both sides to set aside an additional 3 percent (1.5 percent each) of league revenues — $9.3 billion last year. The NFL and the players had no comment yesterday on the retirees' complaint.
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