As the lawyers for the NFL owners and players poised themselves for oral arguments on the district court’s lockout injunction on Friday, the warring sides met in “secret” mediated negotiating sessions that started Tuesday at Chicago’s DuPage Airport.
Before any football fan gets too excited over the first negotiating session held outside the presence of lawyers since Feb. 5, court-appointed mediator Arthur Boylan canceled next week’s scheduled sessions shortly after the talks broke off Thursday. That could mean almost anything, but a source told the Associated Press that any characterization of them as progress “might not be accurate.”
A joint statement from both sides confirmed the talks, but added that they have been ordered to keep their content confidential.
A source told ESPN that the owners had requested the sessions before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals entertains arguments Friday. Another source told the Associated Press that the sessions could speed the league toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Both sides understand there needs to be a timetable toward getting a (new collective bargaining agreement)," the source said. “There’s hope that this will speed up that timetable.”
Tempering any hope for a quick resolution was the fact that the NHL held a similar meeting at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in 2005, only to see that season sacrificed in its entirety.
The meetings were attended by most of the two negotiating committees. On the owners’ side, Dallas’ Jerry Jones, Carolina’s Jerry Richardson, New England’s Robert Kraft and Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney were there. Player representatives included NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, the Jets’ Tony Richardson, the Chiefs’ Mike Vrabel, and the Colts’ Jeff Saturday.
Meanwhile, courtroom football was poised to continue Friday in St. Louis as the three-judge appellate panel will entertain 30-minute arguments over District Judge Susan Nelson’s lockout injunction of March 11.
The jurists won’t render their opinions for several weeks, but the language used in permanently staying the injunction leans favorably toward the owners.