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NFL, players resume talks as time grows short

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Negotiations between the NFL and locked out players resumed Tuesday in Minnesota amid hopes that a deal could be completed by the end of next week to put the sport back in business.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, were in the Minneapolis area for meetings that included staff members and attorneys for both sides, but not owners or players. The talks, again overseen by the court-appointed mediator, Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan, are scheduled to continue through Friday.

A deal could be struck this week, but that is considered unlikely, according to people who are not involved in the talks but are familiar with them. The more realistic hope is that an agreement can be completed next week, those people said, to ensure enough time for a free agent signing period before training camps open and the preaseason begins.

It probably would take at least two weeks for lawyers to turn a handshake deal into a formal written agreement, and the sport’s leaders apparently do not intend to allow free agency to begin without a signed collective bargaining agreement. The deal also must be ratified by owners and players, and might require the players to reconstitute their labor union. Players dissolved the organization March 11 and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners, who locked them out the following day.

Goodell and Smith were traveling to Florida on Tuesday evening after Goodell accepted Smith’s invitation to speak to rookies at the NFL Players Association’s event for them there this week. Many in the sport took that as another sign that a deal could be struck soon. Goodell and Smith are scheduled to return to Minnesota on Wednesday to continue negotiations. Goodell’s acceptance of Smith’s invitation to address the rookies was first reported by Sports Illustrated on its Web site.

The accord under discussion would give players just less than half the sport’s growing revenue under a salary cap system, according to people familiar with the talks. The two sides are negotiating a rookie pay system. The deal would reduce offseason workouts for players.

NFL officials have said they want to remove court oversight of future labor matters. Any pact also must address pending litigation, including the players’ antitrust lawsuit.

The deal likely will require players with expired contracts to have four seasons of NFL experience to be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

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