NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith met again Thursday, expanding talks on a pro football labor deal for the first time this week to include owners and players.
Sitting down with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan at a Minneapolis law firm were a handful of owners — John Mara of the Giants, Clark Hunt of the Chiefs, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Robert Kraft of the Patriots — and players including Jeff Saturday of the Colts, Kansas City's Brian Waters and Baltimore's Domonique Foxworth.
Late in the afternoon, the NFLPA had a half-hour conference call to update players, The Associated Press reported.
The latest round of talks aimed at ending the NFL's longest work stoppage ever began on Tuesday, with just Goodell, Smith, their attorneys and staffs. The leaders of the two sides left the table to address incoming rookies at a symposium in Florida on Wednesday morning and then flew back to Minnesota.
The location is significant because Minneapolis is where the players have filed a pending federal antitrust suit against the owners. The sides met here for six days of court-ordered mediation under Boylan in April and May.
Owners and players are seeking a deal that would divide revenues for the $9 billion business — the biggest hurdle to clear — and guide league activities for years to come.
John Hancock Jr., a labor law expert in Detroit for the firm Butzel Long who has closely followed the NFL situation, said he believes an agreement could be reached soon, perhaps early next week. He said one sign of progress was the smaller Tuesday meeting and the lack of details being shared.
The recent cordiality between Smith and Goodell also is suggestive.
"Both of them seemed amiable to one another," Hancock said. "This did not look like two guys who are going to continue this strife much longer."
The lockout began March 12, and training camps are scheduled to open in three weeks.
Since players don't get their regular paychecks until the regular season and revenue revolves heavily around games, the financial urgency arguably hasn't arrived.
Rookies need to start learning their playbooks, though, and teams need free agency to arrange their rosters. Plus, a 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel is still weighing a final decision the legality of the lockout.
"The 8th Circuit is not going to wait forever to issue their opinion," Hancock said. "Who knows what they're going to do, but I'd imagine they've already got their opinion written and they're just waiting to see if they can reach an agreement."