NFL Players and owners willing to resume talks

By Gene Cherry

SALVO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The NFL owners and players, who have not held labor talks since last month's lockout took effect, are willing to resume discussions but the sparing parties differ on who should oversee them.

The players said on Thursday they accept presiding judge Susan Richard Nelson's suggestion both sides use the Minnesota federal court's services to mediate the players' request for an injunction against the league's lockout.

But the owners sent a letter to the players' lawyers on Thursday asking that the sides return to the federal mediation service in Washington where talks collapsed March 11, according to a report on the league's website (http://www.nfl.com).

The letter said the players would receive assurances they would not compromise their legal position as a result of discussions in front of the federal mediator.

Nine players, including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, filed a class action antitrust lawsuit against the owners and requested an injunction against the league's lockout of the players after the talks broke down and the players union decertified.

Players attorney Barbara Berens wrote judge Nelson on Thursday saying the players were ready to engage in mediation without delay on their request for an injunction against the lockout.

But she added a condition.

"Our agreement is, of course, contingent on the NFL defendants' agreement that they will not attempt to use this, our willingness to mediate, against the (players in the lawsuit) in some way, for example by arguing that such mediation efforts constitute 'collective bargaining' or otherwise arise out of a 'labor relationship.'"

But league outside counsel David Boies said on Wednesday collective bargaining is exactly what is needed.

"If we are going to get a resolution, if we are going to get the people back to the bargaining table so that we can reach a settlement and have a football season; it is going to be necessary that we do it in a normal collective bargaining context," Boies told reporters after a daylong hearing on the players' request for a lockout injunction.

While the players would like to resolve their request for a lockout injunction and the antitrust suit, Boies made it clear a new collective bargaining agreement was paramount to owners.

"We don't need a settlement to a lawsuit; what we need is a collective bargaining agreement so that players can go back playing and the league can put on games," he said.

Until that occurs, he said, no progress is going to be made on a new labor agreement whose main issue is how to divide the NFL's $9 billion in annual revenue.

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