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Flicker of hope lingers in NFL labor talks as CBA deadline approaches

(Editor's Note: This column will be updated as news develops. Last update: 2:46 p.m.)

WASHINGTON -- "Hoping for the best,'' said Saints quarterback and NFL Players Association board member Drew Brees as he walked into a crucial, and perhaps final, mediation session with ownership this morning at 10 a.m.

Brees may have been prescient. The talks, which Thursday night had seemed to be on a terrible path, were obviously making some progress by noon Friday. NFLPA executive DeMaurice Smith had promised to update players with news of the labor negotiations by 2 p.m. According to a union source, Smith was on a conference call with player representatives.

Today is the 16th day of negotiatons with mediator George Cohen and this, by far, was the largest group collectively to enter his offices for discussions. The fact that more than four hours have passed with no one from either side exiting the building led observers outside to think progress was being made inside.

One NFL source said that on a conference call with owners Thursday, commissioner Roger Goodell was given the freedom to move drastically, if need be, to make a deal with players. There were indications Goodell would present a last, best offer to the players this morning, one that might have a significant concession about financial transparency in the 32 NFL teams' audited financial statements, which is the sticking point with players in these talks.

Shortly after noon today, Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal reported that Goodell's offer included revisions to several negotiating points.

There were some indications that there were talks into the night Thursday by some in the negotiations, trying to figure out some way to find common ground. If some progress could be made, those close to the talks said this morning, there might be reason for the two sides to agree to another extension that could keep the two sides talking into next week.

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When Dallas owner Jerry Jones walked into the federal building this morning, he told reporters, "Hopefully we will have something for you in an hour or two.'' That seemed to give rise to speculation that the ownership group might give the players one last proposal, and if it was not enough to give some hope, the two sides would probably break off talks and head toward decertification.

For anything to get done between the owners and players, one thing is clear: The players want to see the audited financial statements of each team. It won't be good enough to see overall numbers of what each team has made over the past few years. Players want details. Intricate details. Without that, this is headed to the courts.

The twice-extended CBA expires at 11:59 p.m. But for the players to decertify, they would have to file by approximately 5 p.m. That paperwork is ready to be filed, a union official said Thursday.

In court, of course, the players would find an ally: U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty in Minneapolis. Doty has sided with the players more often than not in his two decades lording over most NFL labor issues, and he blistered the league March 1 in ruling the NFL could not use the $4 billion in network TV revenue this year as "lockout insurance'' in the event the league missed games due to a work stoppage. The league surely wants to avoid appearing before Doty again.

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