Mediator Cites ‘Strong Differences’ in N.F.L. Talks

INDIANAPOLIS — The federal mediator working with N.F.L. team owners and the players union said Thursday that “very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues that separate the parties.”

With a week to go before the collective bargaining agreement expires, and after seven days of lengthy talks, it was an indication that it was unlikely a new deal would be done by next week, setting up possible decisions by team owners about whether to lock out players and by the union about whether to decertify.
In his statement, George H. Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said that there had been “some progress” in the talks, which he described as highly focused and constructive, and he asked the sides to assess their position before they reconvene on Tuesday.
That will be one day before owners convene outside Washington to discuss their plans. When the sides gather again with Cohen, it is possible owners will join the group. No owners attended the week of bargaining sessions.
The labor deal expires at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, and owners and players continue to struggle with the most fundamental issue: how to divide the $9 billion in revenue and how much owners should receive off the top of the revenue pool to pay for expenses like stadium construction and renovation.
The labor uncertainty was a prime source of conversation among coaches and general managers during the first day of the league’s scouting combine.
They were briefed by league officials in a meeting Thursday evening on how to operate in the event of a lockout, with the league emphasizing that team personnel are not allowed to have contact of any kind with players during a lockout, including players who are rehabilitating injuries. The league provided them no specifics about negotiations, beyond telling them that talks continue.
“Basically kind of a review of where we are,” Jacksonville Coach Jack Del Rio said. “ ‘We hope to get something done. In case it doesn’t, here are some of the scenarios that can play out.’ We got some information.”
Coaches said publicly they were preparing for a normal off-season. But privately, teams that have made coaching changes or that will have considerable roster overhauls are concerned that a lockout will put them at a competitive disadvantage against more established teams, especially those with established quarterbacks.
In St. Louis, for example, quarterback Sam Bradford has to learn his second offense in two years, but he will be unable to meet with the new coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is still constructing the offense. Compare that with the Ravens; quarterback Joe Flacco is making plans to work out with some of his receivers in Arizona if there is a lockout.
John Mara, the president of the Giants and a member of the N.F.L.’s negotiating team, said he had told team employees — football and nonfootball staff — that the Giants would not have layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts for at least the first few months. That includes assistant coaches. Some teams plan to cut pay for assistant coaches during a lockout.
“Everybody’s got to make their own decisions,” Mara said. “We just looked at our own team, our own organization, and made a decision we felt was in our best interests and we were comfortable with.”
The competition committee met with union representatives to talk about player safety issues. The Giants president John Mara said that the committee was again looking at ways to reduce hits to the head, including trying to determine if it was possible to prohibit players launching themselves at opponents.

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