In the first significant sign of progress in the 20-day-old National Football League players strike, negotiators for the league and the NFL Players Association agreed yesterday to attempt to settle the impasse by mediation.

After a private, 3 1/2-hour meeting yesterday in Rye, N.Y., Ed Garvey, the executive director of the NFLPA, and Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, announced they would ask Kay McMurray, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to appoint a mediator.

Garvey had previously opposed involvement of federal mediators in the strike on the grounds that they had not been helpful in negotiations between the NFL and the union in 1970 and 1974.

Garvey called yesterday's meeting productive. "I think the mood was, 'Let's get back to the bargaining table,' " he said.

Garvey said that he and Donlan would call McMurray today to set up further talks. He also said that McMurray could appoint a private mediator to resolve the dispute.

"Quite candidly, we should have done this a long time ago," said Donlan. "It's no major breakthrough, but it's a step."

McMurray said last night he would wait until he hears from the parties before deciding how to proceed. He said he has met with both sides in the dispute and has been monitoring it since the NFL first asked for federal mediation in August. Seeking the help of mediators, he said, "is a step in the right direction."

On Thursday, the union suggested nine candidates as private mediators, but the proposal was turned down by management.

The two sides last met Oct. 2 in Washington, but the talks broke off in an atmosphere of bitterness and acrimony with no progress reported.

Yesterday's meeting, which occurred as the strike shut down all NFL games for the third consecutive Sunday, was attended only by Donlan, Garvey, NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders and Sargent Karch, general counsel to the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm.

It was initiated by Donlan in a telephone call to Garvey late Saturday.

Donlan said he asked for the meeting because the most recent round of negotiations had focused on peripheral issues, but the main stumbling block remained the players' demand for a wage scale.

In another development yesterday, the management council released the text of a message to the union that appeared to suggest the possibility of a compromise on the issue of a wage scale. The players want a trust fund to be set up to pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses.

" . . . We will not agree to your wage scale," the message said. "Your wage scale is a minimum, and it is too high. If you think our proposed minimums are too low, then maybe we can talk about reducing the difference between the two levels of minimums."

Doug Allen, an assistant to Garvey, however, was reluctant to be optimistic about the message. "Let's see what they say at the bargaining table," he said. Management's message, he said, "was obviously written for the benefit of the National Labor Relations Board."

The union has filed formal charges with the NLRB that NFL negotiators have violated federal labor laws by refusing to bargain on the issue of a wage scale.

In another strike-related development, Chuck Sullivan, vice president of the New England Patriots and the chairman of the management council's executive committee, said on CBS's "NFL Today" show that a decision on whether to open training facilities will be made this coming week.

"That judgment will be made on whether we feel there are enough players who will show up," he said. But Sullivan also said he hopes the NFL does not have to try to play with a strike going on.

"Our major objective is to get this settled at the bargaining table," he said. Players Union, NFL Agree to Seek Mediation By Bart Barnes Washington Post Staff Writer

In the first significant sign of progress in the 20-day-old National Football League players strike, negotiators for the league and the NFL Players Association agreed yesterday to attempt to settle the impasse by mediation.

After a private, 3 1/2-hour meeting yesterday in Rye, N.Y., Ed Garvey, the executive director of the NFLPA, and Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, announced they would ask Kay McMurray, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to appoint a mediator.

Garvey had previously opposed involvement of federal mediators in the strike on the grounds that they had not been helpful in negotiations between the NFL and the union in 1970 and 1974.

Garvey called yesterday's meeting productive. "I think the mood was, 'Let's get back to the bargaining table,' " he said.

Garvey said that he and Donlan would call McMurray today to set up further talks. He also said that McMurray could appoint a private mediator to resolve the dispute.

"Quite candidly, we should have done this a long time ago," said Donlan. "It's no major breakthrough, but it's a step."

McMurray said last night he would wait until he hears from the parties before deciding how to proceed. He said he has met with both sides in the dispute and has been monitoring it since the NFL first asked for federal mediation in August. Seeking the help of mediators, he said, "is a step in the right direction."

On Thursday, the union suggested nine candidates as private mediators, but the proposal was turned down by management.

The two sides last met Oct. 2 in Washington, but the talks broke off in an atmosphere of bitterness and acrimony with no progress reported.

Yesterday's meeting, which occurred as the strike shut down all NFL games for the third consecutive Sunday, was attended only by Donlan, Garvey, NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders and Sargent Karch, general counsel to the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm.

It was initiated by Donlan in a telephone call to Garvey late Saturday.

Donlan said he asked for the meeting because the most recent round of negotiations had focused on peripheral issues, but the main stumbling block remained the players' demand for a wage scale.

In another development yesterday, the management council released the text of a message to the union that appeared to suggest the possibility of a compromise on the issue of a wage scale. The players want a trust fund to be set up to pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses.

" . . . We will not agree to your wage scale," the message said. "Your wage scale is a minimum, and it is too high. If you think our proposed minimums are too low, then maybe we can talk about reducing the difference between the two levels of minimums."

Doug Allen, an assistant to Garvey, however, was reluctant to be optimistic about the message. "Let's see what they say at the bargaining table," he said. Management's message, he said, "was obviously written for the benefit of the National Labor Relations Board."

The union has filed formal charges with the NLRB that NFL negotiators have violated federal labor laws by refusing to bargain on the issue of a wage scale.

In another strike-related development, Chuck Sullivan, vice president of the New England Patriots and the chairman of the management council's executive committee, said on CBS's "NFL Today" show that a decision on whether to open training facilities will be made this coming week.

"That judgment will be made on whether we feel there are enough players who will show up," he said. But Sullivan also said he hopes the NFL does not have to try to play with a strike going on.

"Our major objective is to get this settled at the bargaining table," he said.