NEW YORK – The NFL is preparing for preseason games even though the owners and players remain at odds over a new contract.
The league released its preseason schedule Tuesday as lawyers for locked-out players were meeting with a judge in Minneapolis prior to court-ordered mediation with the league later this week.
The preseason schedule, of course, is contingent on the players and NFL owners reaching a new collective bargaining agreement, replacing the one that expired March 11 after talks with a federal mediator in Washington broke off.
Because teams will need at least two weeks of training camp to get ready, that means the NFL would need to have its labor stalemate solved about July 25 at the very latest, even if starters are only going to play for a series or two in the exhibition opener.
With the NFL entering its second month of its shutdown, the only business going on is the April 28-30 draft.
The preseason schedule includes 65 games through Sept. 2.
The league's slate of 11 nationally televised preseason games features the entire 2010 playoff field, including the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers visiting Indianapolis on Aug. 26 at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the 2012 Super Bowl.
The nationally televised games are the only ones with specific dates determined. On Aug. 18, the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host Philadelphia on Fox.
The preseason schedule wraps up Sept. 1-2 with the regular season's first full slate of regular season games set for Sept. 11. The regular season schedule has yet to be released.
In Minneapolis, attorneys and Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller sat down with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan on Tuesday. The NFL's attorneys are scheduled to meet with Boylan on Wednesday before mediation begins on Thursday.
The mediation was ordered by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who is still considering a request from the players to lift the lockout imposed by owners after the players dissolved their union, clearing the way for the court fight.