WASHINGTON – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch emerged with a smile and a positive outlook Monday after attending a fourth consecutive day of federally mediated negotiations between the NFL and the players' union.
"Things are going well right now," said Batch, a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee. "We'll see how things progress over the next couple days."
He didn't discuss any details.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith left at 6 p.m., about seven hours after Monday's session began. NFL executives departed minutes after Smith. None would comment on the negotiations; Smith deflected questions by joking about the wintry weather, including snow forecast for Monday night.
After months of infrequent — and sometimes contentious — bargaining, the league and union have been communicating face-to-face for a total of more than 25 hours since Friday. The sessions are taking place at the office of George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a U.S. government agency.
The league and union agreed to try mediation in a bid to find common ground as time runs out before the current labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3. The union has said it believes team owners want to lock out the players as soon as the next day, which could threaten the 2011 season.
The sides met for about six hours on both Friday and Saturday, and another eight hours Sunday. Cohen announced Thursday the groups agreed to the mediation, which is not binding but is meant as a way to spur progress. The plan calls for several days of negotiations with Cohen present.
"Any time that you talk," Batch said, "you have to feel better."
He and two other current players — Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson — left Monday at 5 p.m., getting into cars that were heading to the airport. It wasn't clear whether other players would take their spots with the union's negotiating team in Washington.
The NFL's group began arriving at 8 a.m. Monday, and Commissioner Roger Goodell walked in alone shortly after 9 a.m. The NFL's group included general counsel and lead labor negotiator Jeff Pash and outside lawyer Bob Batterman.
Batterman represented the NHL when it lost its entire 2004-05 season to a lockout.
Smith got to Cohen's office at about 11 a.m., entering with Fujita. Former players Pete Kendall and Sean Morey also were part of the union contingent Monday, along with lawyers Richard Berthelsen and Jeffrey Kessler.
The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once the next week, then called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.
The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.
The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; a rookie wage scale; and benefits for retired players.
(This version CORRECTS Substitutes 2nd paragraph to expand and correct Batch's quote. Adds fresh photo links.)