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Happy to talk labor, Ward worries about lockout

Amid the Super Bowl media-day madness — "Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga?" and "Who'll play in the NBA finals?" and "How are you sleeping?" — Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward was thrilled to get a chance to weigh in on the NFL's labor uncertainty.

"That," Ward said Tuesday at Cowboys Stadium, "is the biggest thing that needs to be talked about."

Ward finds it hard to believe that a league with about $9 billion in gross revenues this season — and players who make an average salary of nearly $2 million — can't figure out a way to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement.

"It's a bad situation," said Ward, a 13-year veteran.

Owners and players "make way too much money ... to be in the situation to have a lockout," he continued. "That's what's disappointing. I wish some of the guys would speak up about it. I can't make anybody speak up about it. But it's on a lot of guys' minds."

The NFL and union scheduled a formal bargaining session — their first in more than two months — for Saturday in the Dallas area, a day before the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers for the title.

The old CBA expires in early March, and the union expects the league's 32 clubs to lock out the players. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday he thinks the sides might not feel pressure to find a deal until the September start of the 2011 regular season is approaching.

"What counts is: Are we going to be playing in the fall?" Jones said. "I've got 31 riding with me — as far as the owners are concerned — who want to be playing in the fall."

Steelers safety Ryan Clark agreed with Jones on that point.

"If nothing happens by March, no games will be missed at that point, so they still have time to work to get something done," Clark said. "But I am afraid that games will be missed, and as a guy going into his 10th year, you want to play every game you can."

While there has been little obvious progress in the talks, a ruling came Tuesday in the union's complaint that the league improperly negotiated TV contracts — and both sides claimed victory. Special master Stephen Burbank rejected the union's request that $4 billion in 2011 TV payments to the league be put in escrow in the event of a lockout. He also awarded the union damages from the league because of violations in "the NFL's negotiation of lockout insurance in its contracts with ESPN and NBC."

The union accused the NFL of structuring TV contracts so owners would be guaranteed money even if there were a lockout in 2011 — while not maximizing revenue from other seasons, when income would be shared with players. The union will appeal Burbank's ruling.

Among the key issues in the bargaining: how to split revenues; the league's push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.

Ward spoke strongly against an 18-game regular season, saying most players are against that proposal — and questioning why the NFL would want it.

"You know this game is a dangerous game, so if you care, why would you try to add two more dangerous games? ... You're not thinking about the players' safety if you're trying to add two more games," he said.

While several Steelers players were willing to talk about the labor situation, members of the Packers were not eager to address it.

Asked about the possibility of a lockout, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a union representative, replied: "I'm not going to discuss that."

Cornerback Charles Woodson, an alternate union rep, also declined to touch the subject.

Ward, however, didn't mind one bit.

"Hopefully the two sides can get this issue done and move on, because you would hate to not have a (2011) season," he said. "There's no way you can not have a football season, so hopefully something will get done."