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Secret talks on eve of NFL court hearing

The NFL and players suing the league return to the courtroom Friday in St. Louis, where a hearing will be held on the league's appeal of an injunction that briefly lifted the nearly three-month-old lockout.

But in a potentially significant development that could build some momentum toward settling the league's longstanding labor dispute, a secret meeting was held Wednesday in Chicago that included several key officials from both sides. 

A league source has confirmed that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, a handful of owners and players association officials met for several hours Wednesday near Chicago. While no breakthrough appears imminent, it is notable that the sides met in this kind of format. In previous negotiating sessions, they had only met in the presence of federal mediators. 

The fact that they were at least willing to talk directly could be viewed as a sign that they're ready to begin bridging some of the major differences that have prevented a new collective bargaining agreement from being forged. 

Among the owners present for the talks: John Mara of the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, and Jerry Richardson of the Panthers. It is uncertain who in addition to Smith was present for the players' side. 

UPDATE: The talks, which began Tuesday night over dinner, are being mediated by Judge Arthur Boylan, who was assigned that role by District Court Judge Susan Nelson in April. The talks continue today. 

A person familiar with the inner workings of the talks said that it was Boylan who called the parties together in a bid to continue dialogue. No breakthroughs were expected, however, and, as of yesterday, no new proposals were exchanged. 

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