By Gene Cherry
SALVO, North Carolina (Reuters) - NFL players and owners have been urged to resume talks aimed at ending their bitter labor dispute themselves after a judge said she would need around two weeks to make a ruling for an injunction against the league's lockout.
"It seems to me that both sides are at risk," Judge Susan Richard Nelson said after a day of legal arguments in Minnesota on Wednesday.
"And this is a very good time for you to come back to the table. Not to the union table, not to the players' table, but to the federal court table," she said.
Judge Nelson had been asked by the players to grant an injunction to end a lockout imposed on them by the NFL but did not make a ruling when the hearing ended.
"It will probably take me a couple of weeks to do a fair job to both sides," she said.
An attorney for the players, who include high-profile quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, had asked for an immediate ruling, saying the lockout was illegal.
But league attorney David Boies questioned whether the court had jurisdiction in the case, saying the National Labor Relations Board should first rule on an owners' complaint against the players' union.
Both sides have indicated they would lodge an appeal if they lost the decision on the injunction, setting the stage for a long and costly legal battle.
The NFL ordered the lockout after talks between the league and the players' union collapsed, plunging America's most popular professional sport into its first work stoppage in almost a quarter of a century.
The league and the players were unable to reach an agreement over a range of issues, including how to divide up more than $9 billion in annual revenues.
Under the expired agreement signed in 2006, owners received a guaranteed $1 billion of the annual revenue while the rest was split, with players getting around 60 percent and the owners 40 percent.
The league and owners wanted to increase their automatic cut, arguing that operational costs had risen since the last deal was struck, but the players wanted to maintain the status quo.
With the next season not due to kick off until September, both sides are holding out hope a solution can be found by then although the bill for the dispute was still likely to be astronomical.
League officials had estimated a lockout would cost the game $120 million by the end of last month, rising to $1 billion by September.
All sides in the dispute, dubbed as a row between billionaires and millionaires, have been heavily criticized by American media and even the President Barack Obama for squabbling over a fortune at a time when thousands of families were struggling to make ends meet.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)