MINNEAPOLIS — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the league is planning to start the 2011 season on time, even as the lockout reached its 40th day with few signs of progress in court-ordered talks between the owners and players.
“We’re planning to play a full season and we’re going to negotiate as hard as we can to get that done,” Goodell told Giants season-ticket holders in a conference call during a break in the fourth day of mediation at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.
Goodell, Packers CEO Mark Murphy, Falcons President Rich McKay and owners Pat Bowlen of Denver, Jerry Jones from Dallas and Jerry Richardson from Carolina attended Wednesday’s session. Players Ben Leber and Mike Vrabel were joined by Hall of Famer Carl Eller and attorneys for the talks in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan. All declined comment.
It has been two weeks since U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the two sides back to the table. At the time, she also said she would take “a couple weeks” to decide on the players’ request for an injunction to immediately lift the lockout, which is the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.
Nelson’s decision figures to put considerable leverage on the winning side, though it will almost certainly be appealed.
“That is the judge’s decision,” Goodell said. “She will make that ruling when she is prepared to do it, and at that point in time we all will respect the ruling and we will get back to the point where we are negotiating.”
The two sides have spent four days with Boylan, following 16 days of failed talks in front of a federal mediator in Washington.
Some have questioned whether the two sides were committed to negotiating while awaiting Nelson’s ruling. But Goodell said all parties involved remain committed to the process.
“I think fans want solution. I want solutions,” he said. “I think the players want solutions and I think the teams want solutions. That’s why we have to be working at it in negotiations and figuring out how to get to that point.”
Players including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning filed the injunction request along with a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. The lawsuit has been combined with two other similar claims from retirees, former players and rookies-to-be, with Eller the lead plaintiff in that group.
The Sports Business Journal reported Wednesday that a group of about 70 “mid-tier” players are considering hiring a law firm to get them a seat at the mediation table, upset that the talks broke off last month.
DeMaurice Smith, the head of the players’ trade association, said he was unaware of the report. Vrabel said he had not heard of the report, either, but “they do have a seat, with Ben and me.”
With appeals expected, there isn’t a ton of time left when it comes to the 2011 season. The NFL released its regular season schedule Tuesday night, announcing that the season will open on Thursday, Sept. 8, with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints.
That’s less than five months away, with free agency, trades and other roster decisions still up in the air while the lockout is in place.
The announcement of the schedule came with a big if, of course. The longer the labor strife drags through the court system, the more danger is posed to actual games being canceled.
“We have to identify the solutions and get it done,” Goodell said. “It is tough for me to project. We’re going to continue to make the preparations for the season and work as hard as we can to solve those issues in advance so we can play every game and every down of the season.”