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NFL labor talks roll on as deadline nears
NFL Labor Heal
Roger Goodell - photo by Associated Press

    WASHINGTON — After negotiating through the long holiday weekend, NFL and the players’ union kept going Tuesday, undeterred by a blanket of snow and ice that slowed down the usual bustle of the nation’s capital.
    The two sides convened Tuesday morning for Day 5 of talks overseen by a federal mediator. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith walked down the icy sidewalk outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and entered the building shortly before 10 a.m., accompanied by Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and ex-player Sean Morey.
    Commissioner Roger Goodell arrived alone about 40 minutes earlier. Other now-familiar principles also filtered in; among them were NFLPA lawyer Richard Berthelsen, former player Pete Kendall, NFL lead labor negotiator Jeff Pash and outside lawyer Bob Batterman.
    After months of infrequent — and sometimes contentious — bargaining, the league and union have been communicating face-to-face since Friday.
    The sessions are taking place in the office of George Cohen at a U.S. government agency about five blocks from the White House.

The league and union agreed to try mediation in a bid to find common ground before the current labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3. The union has said it believes team owners want to lock out the players as soon as the next day, which could threaten the 2011 season.

The sides met for about six hours on both Friday and Saturday, eight hours on Sunday and then seven hours on Monday. Cohen announced Thursday the groups agreed to the mediation, which is not binding but is meant as a way to spur progress. The plan calls for several days of negotiations with Cohen.

“Things are going well right now,” Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, said after Monday’s talks. “We’ll see how things progress over the next couple days.”

The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once the next week, then called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.

The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.