NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith spent about 100 minutes working
on a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, then left without saying a word.
Goodell eventually returned to the hotel lobby hours later, after participating in the league's competition committee meeting and reiterated the league's position of finishing a new deal before the agreement expires in March 2011.
"It doesn't pay to characterize everything," Goodell said. "They (the players) know our desire to get a deal done and we've got to keep working to do that."
The two sides held their latest round of negotiations in an Indianapolis hotel ballroom as the league's annual scouting combine began. Goodell said the two sides discussed "setting up" another meeting, but did not establish a date.
Thursday's topics included the appeals process for disciplinary actions and player safety issues, things Goodell expressed interest in implementing before a deal is completed.
Goodell declined to discuss other topics on the agenda, but said he remains hopeful the two sides will negotiate a deal before the collective bargaining agreement expires.
"I think it's natural that deadlines produce results, so I think deadlines help," he said. "I think there is a general desire on both sides to get a deal. But I don't think you can create artificial deadlines."
The first official deadline is March 5. If players and owners do not reach an agreement by then, the league will have its first non-salary cap season since 1993.
Goodell ruled out any chance of the owners agreeing to a temporary one-year salary cap to avoid an uncapped season, saying that's the reason owners opted out of the previous deal in the spring of 2008.
And it's increasingly likely no deal will be finished by then.
"I guess till you get to March 5, there's always a chance," Goodell said.
But players are looking to a more ominous deadline next March.
They believe no deal will lead to a lockout before the start of the 2011 season. The union has instructed players to plan appropriately so their families can have a similar lifestyle if there is a lockout. Player reps and union officials declined questions Thursday morning and Thursday afternoon.
Smith was joined at the negotiating table by several player representatives including Jeff Saturday of Indianapolis and Mike Vrabel of Kansas City. About 15 player reps also attended the competition committee meeting.
Goodell brought a group of league executives to the bargaining session, including executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash.
The meeting was supposed to last about one hour but went longer than expected.
Goodell appeared to be in good spirits when he entered the room. He smiled and hugged one player before negotiations began. When the session broke up, both sides came out expressionless.
The NFLPA also sent out a memo Tuesday saying it does not expect a new deal to be in place by March 5 when free agents can start signing with new teams.
Smith has said the sides have met more than 30 times in the past six months.