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NFL, Players Continue Mediation, Judge’s Ruling Could Come Soon

DeMaurice Smith

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The NFL and the players union expected a ruling from a federal judge on a request to immediately halt the current lockout, now in its second month. The two sides continued their court-ordered mediation Tuesday.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joined the NFL’s contingent in Minneapolis as talks resumed following a three-day break. Jones walked in with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others, including Denver owner Pat Bowlen and Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy. All declined comment.

DeMaurice Smith, the head of the players’ trade association, did not attend due to a family emergency. Linebacker Mike Vrabel and Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller were among the players on hand.

The talks are the latest step in the contentious fight over a new collective bargaining agreement. Sixteen days of mediated talks in Washington fell short, resulting in a class-action antitrust lawsuit filed by the players against the NFL and the league’s first work stoppage since 1987.

Michael Hausfeld, an attorney representing retired players, said both sides are serious about reaching a resolution.

“This is no charade. This is no illusion. This is going to come to a resolution either by the parties compromising or agreeing or by a judgment,” Hausfeld said Tuesday before talks resumed. “And even with a judgment, many times there is then a discussion as to how to compromise the judgment so there is not a winner-take-all situation.

“This takes time. The court is doing everything within its power to get the parties to realize that.”

When discussions concluded on Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who is overseeing the sessions, assigned some weekend homework. Hausfeld walked into the federal courthouse with a document that he estimated at about 100 pages responding to the questions Boylan asked them to answer.

“What this mediation is about, what the dispute is about, is the structure of the game and the relationship between the rookies, the active players, the retirees, with each other and the league,” Hausfeld said. “Those are fundamental.”

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the talks, which lasted 13 hours over two days last week. Her ruling on the players’ request to lift the lockout is expected any day.

Players including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning filed the request along with the antitrust claim. The lawsuit has been combined with two other similar claims from retirees, former players and rookies-to-be, with Eller the lead plaintiff in that group.

The prospects of Nelson’s ruling giving one side leverage could influence the mediation, Hausfeld said.

“I hope everyone in the room, owners, active players, rookie representatives and retiree representatives understand that this is a situation that not only involves their interests but the interests of many fans and other people who depend upon the game being played,” Hausfeld said. “And if everyone seriously approaches the issues with the manner in which the court has, then hopefully progress can be made.”

Any decision Nelson makes, Hausfeld said, would certainly be appealed to the federal appellate court in St. Louis.

That means more time for legal maneuvering, further jeopardizing the 2011 NFL season.

“There’s no question that any ruling Judge Nelson makes will be a first step,” he said. “It will be taken on appeal.”

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.