ATLANTA – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to see immediate progress in labor talks.
"It's time to get to the table and negotiate," he said Tuesday after an owners meeting Tuesday. "It takes a commitment to get it done. We have to see that."
The collective bargaining agreement with the players expires on March 4 after the NFL opted out of the deal in 2008. The sides are far apart on the major issues, including the players' share of revenues, a projected 18-game regular season, and a rookie wage scale. The union also has expressed concerns about health care, and its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, says he expects a lockout.
Asked if the 32 teams have been advised how to prepare for a lockout beyond ticket refunds, Goodell told NFL Network:
"Our clubs have prepared for all outcomes. We want an agreement. The first priority is to reach an agreement. We know we will get to an agreement. We hope it's sooner rather than later. The clubs are going to be responsible and they are going to be prepared for every alternative. The hope here is to get something done quickly so that we don't have to get into those issues. But they are prepared."
Jeff Pash, the league's lead negotiator, believes a deal could be struck before the CBA runs out in six weeks.
" If the focus is, and it has to be a shared commitment — one side can't do it alone — on getting together and having the kind of serious discussions and hard choices and real compromises that goes into a collective bargaining agreement, then there is enough time to get it done by March 4 and we can do it," Pash said. "We need to see a parallel commitment by our negotiating partner."
Both sides have said no substantial negotiations have occurred since Thanksgiving. Pash said any talks since then were "not nearly at the pace and not nearly with the focus that is necessary to make real progress."
In Washington on Tuesday, the NFLPA held a meeting at its headquarters with more than 20 current players who are first-time union representatives or alternate reps. They heard from Smith, who outlined the basic elements of the CBA negotiations.
Some of those player reps will head to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with lawmakers.
Also Tuesday, the union launched its "Let Us Play" campaign via social media, including players writing that on their Twitter feeds.
"Essentially, fan engagement is what it's about," union spokesman George Atallah said. "It's just another way to get our message out."
Goodell added that the NFL Players Association's filing of a collusion claim simply is "more litigation. I've said before, this is not going to get resolved through litigation. It will get resolved through negotiation."