Players and league agree it is time to end lockout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Football League and some of the game's top quarterbacks agreed on Wednesday it is time to reach an agreement to end a four-month-old lockout rather than risk disrupting the start of the 2011 season.

The comments from both sides were some of the most optimistic since talks on a new collective bargaining agreement broke down and prompted the league's first lockout in almost a quarter of a century.

"We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done," quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who are parties in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the league, said in a statement.

"This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."

The NFL followed with its own statement that said they are eager to end a labor dispute that is threatening preseason games for America's most popular professional sport.

"We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season," the league said.

"We are working hard with the players' negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."

The comments from both sides came as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners met with players in New York in an attempt to end the work stoppage.

The league is hoping to have an agreement in principle it can present to an owners meeting in Atlanta on July 21.

At dispute is how to divide more than $9 billion in annual league revenue. Issues involving free agency, a rookie wage scale and pensions for former players.

Both sides are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Minneapolis with the U.S. magistrate judge helping to arbitrate the dispute.

The first preseason game, the Hall of Fame contest between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears, is scheduled for August 7. It has not been canceled as of yet although time is running short.

Collective bargaining talks between the two sides broke down on March 11. The NFLPA then decertified itself as a union and nine NFL players including Brady, Manning and Brees filed their lawsuit against the league.

The next day the league locked out the players

The players hoped to end the lockout through the courts and were initially successful when a U.S. judge ruled in their favor. But a federal appeals court upheld the lockout.

Still to be heard is a judge's decision on whether the players are owed damages in a case involving a $4 billion television contract owners negotiated.

Judge David Doty ruled in March the NFL failed to maximize revenue in the deal, which the players claim gave the league a stockpile of cash to help it through the lockout.

Also pending is a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board on an unfair labor charge brought in February by league owners against the players association.

Both the players and the owners have agreed, though, that the dispute must be resolved through negotiation not the courts.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)