SARASOTA, Fla. -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and players' union chief DeMaurice Smith talked to rookies attending a symposium Wednesday, and were flying back to Minneapolis together to resume labor negotiations aimed at ending the league's four-month old lockout.
Goodell and Smith had breakfast together, then spent about an hour with the 155 rookies at the symposium put on by the players' association. They took questions, almost all concerning the labor dispute, then climbed into an SUV and headed to the airport.
Smith said both sides are "continuing to work hard" to end the lockout and reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Goodell called it "a great opportunity to be able to sit with the rookies" because they "obviously have a lot of questions."
A fifth set of "secret" negotiations resumed in Minneapolis on Tuesday with Goodell, Smith and their staffs on hand but no owners or players. The talks are expected to last through Friday amid hopes a new CBA can be worked out so the season can go on as planned, with training camps set to open in about three weeks.
Such high-level meetings have been key to previous labor agreements, particularly when the late Gene Upshaw was running the players' association and Paul Tagliabue was commissioner. Goodell and Smith did not seem to have the same kind of rapport, but have been spending more time together in recent weeks.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah called the visit by Goodell and Smith "more a representation of the importance of what we want the relationship between the players and the league to be like.
"That's really the significance of this," he added. "There's a lockout happening now, but we've got to look forward and consider the necessity to have a positive working relationship with the league."
Smith called Wednesday's question-and-answer session "important to ensure our young men appreciated how important we think these few days are.
"I'm thrilled Roger could come down with us and talk to the rookies in a very good, direct way."
Added Atallah: "They took some great questions. A lot of it was lockout related, trying to understand where we are in the process. They were as transparent as they could be given the court order to maintain confidentiality."
Before departing, Goodell said he and Smith answered the rookies' question "the best we could."
"We were taking a break (from negotiations) because we felt it was important to be down here with the players," he said. "This is an important few days. We're going to get back to work."