WASHINGTON — With the sides far apart on key economic issues, nine of the 10 members on the NFL owners' labor committee, including co-chairmen Jerry Richardson of the Panthers and Pat Bowlen of the Broncos, attended Thursday's negotiating session with the players' union.
After two extensions, the collective bargaining agreement is now due to expire Friday. If a new deal isn't reached by then, there could be another extension. Or, talks could break off, possibly leading to a lockout by owners or decertification by the union followed by antitrust lawsuits by players — actions that could threaten the 2011 season.
Other committee members present: Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, John Mara of the Giants, Art Rooney II of the Steelers, Clark Hunt of the Chiefs, Mark Murphy of the Packers, Dean Spanos of the Chargers and Mike Brown of the Bengals. Eagles president Joe Banner and Redskins general manager Bruce Allen also were there with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The only missing member of the key league group was Patriots owner Robert Kraft, part of a delegation visiting Israel with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Asked Thursday whether he expects next season to start on time, Kraft told The Associated Press: "That's my belief."
While Mara, Hunt and Murphy occasionally participated in the talks since mediation began Feb. 18, a group this large attended only one previous session, last week.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith was joined at Thursday's session by several current and former players, as well as outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, making his first appearance of the week at the mediator's office.
On Wednesday, Smith said even though owners were willing to reduce the amount of extra money they want — from $1 billion to $800 million — on top of the $1 billion or so they already get up front under the old CBA, it isn't a sufficient cut. And he also said the financial data the league has offered to reveal isn't nearly enough to satisfy the players.
Under the old CBA, owners received an immediate $1 billion for operating expenses before splitting remaining revenues with players. Owners initially tried to double that, and while they have lowered the up-front figure they want, Smith tied that to the full financial transparency he's sought for nearly two years in what is a $9 billion business.
"Just to be absolutely clear, the information that was offered wasn't what we asked for," Smith said, "and, according to our investment bankers and advisers, they told us that information would be utterly meaningless in determining whether to write an $800 million check to the National Football League" in each year of a new CBA.
"We have requested access to fully audited financial statements since May 2009," Smith said. "We believe that is the appropriate information to analyze the league's request to write a multibillion check to the owners."
NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said the union has received unprecedented financial data, including some information the league doesn't give to its clubs.
"No one is asking anyone to write any checks. I think we've been quite clear on that," Pash said. "It is a fact that the Players Association in the course of these negotiations has received more and more detailed financial information than it has ever had before. Has it gotten everything it wants? Evidently not. Have we offered to provide more? Absolutely.
"And is it a subject that we're prepared to discuss? Absolutely."
In a letter dated May 18, 2009, Smith asked Goodell to "provide audited financial statements concerning the operations of the 32 clubs and the league." Smith attached a list of 10 categories of information he sought.
Pash didn't reveal any specifics of the league's offer of financial information. But a person familiar with the negotiations told the AP that the NFL offered to turn over five years of league-wide profitability data to the union.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because mediator George Cohen told participants not to publicly discuss details.
According to the person who spoke to the AP, the NFL's proposal to the union included:
—audited league-wide profitability data with dollar figures from 2005-09 that wouldn't show information on a club-by-club basis;
—the number of teams that have seen a shift in profitability in that span;
—an independent auditor to examine team statements and verify the data provided to the union is accurate.