INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s top labor negotiator used this week’s annual scouting combine to update owners on the collective bargaining negotiations.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, league spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed Saturday that Goodell and Jeff Pash met Friday with the owner’s labor committee at the Colts’ team complex. Colts owner Jim Irsay, Aiello said, did not participate because he was out of town.
"There was a meeting yesterday at the Colts’ offices of the ownership’s labor committee for another update from the negotiating team," Aiello wrote.
The NFL Players Association and league owners are trying to work out a new collective bargaining agreement before the old expires at the end of Thursday.
The two sides spent seven straight days negotiating in front of federal mediator George Cohen in Washington before talks ended Thursday. They are scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Both sides have abided by Cohen’s request to stay quiet about the negotiations, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that everyone involved is bracing for the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.
"Everyone is building their team the same way. You’ll have the draft, you’ll have free agency, none of those things are going away," Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said Saturday. "It all is going to be there at some point, and you’re going to build your team the way you build your team."
Agents also expect a salary cap to be part of the eventual deal.
The latest meeting in Indy was another odd twist on one of the NFL’s biggest and busiest offseason events. Suddenly, all that talk about big-time picks like Cam Newton and Nick Fairley has been overshadowed by the continual meetings about the looming lockout.
On Thursday night, league officials met with head coaches and general managers. Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio described the meeting as "informational."
On Friday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith took his turn. He spent two hours updating agents on the negotiations, then the union put four prominent agents — Tom Condon, Ben Dogra, Drew Rosenhaus and Joel Segal — side-by-side in a show of unity for Smith and the players.
Three blocks away, at Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of next year’s Super Bowl, prospective rookies were working out at the same time agents began tweeting that potential rookies would not be allowed to talk with team officials if the CBA expires. Union and league spokesmen quickly said that was untrue.
On Saturday, word leaked about Goodell’s meeting on the city’s west side. Aiello did not provide details of the most recent discussions which included the labor committee co-chairman — Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers — Dallas’ Jerry Jones and New England’s Robert Kraft.
The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised a clause in 2008 that let them opt out.
League owners want a greater percentage of the roughly $9 billion in annual revenue that is shared with the players. Among the other significant topics in negotiations are a rookie wage scale; the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.
But the threat of a lockout has sped up the pace of negotiations.
After months of infrequent and sometimes contentious talks, the sides 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.
Cohen said Thursday that the two sides had made "some progress" but "very strong differences remain."
"We want a deal and our hope is it will get done as quickly as possible," Smith said Friday.
And so does the city of Indianapolis, which is set to host its first Super Bowl next season.
"I hear that they expect to get it done," Mayor Greg Ballard said during a visit to the stadium. "I’m glad that they’re talking, that they’re talking seriously. We feel that they’ll get it done."