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Goodell agrees to speak at NFLPA's rookie symposium on Wednesday

It's not exactly the Hatfields making peace with the McCoys, but in the contentious world of National Football League labor negotiations, what's happening right now is a pretty significant step.

DeMaurice Smith, the National Football League Players Association executive director, asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to speak at the NFLPA rookie symposium, and Goodell agreed.

The commissioner's appearance is scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Sarasota, Fla. The symposium, titled The Business of Football: Rookie Edition, is being held at the IMG Academy in nearby Bradenton, Fla.

Goodell and Smith, in Minneapolis on Tuesday for the first of four days of labor meetings, left the Twin Cities on the same flight Tuesday night. The plan is for Goodell to speak at the symposium around 8 a.m. Wednesday, then Smith and Goodell immediately will fly back to Minneapolis and reconvene meetings with Judge Arthur J. Boylan after lunchtime.

What's significant is that it represents a continuing thaw in the relationship between Smith and Goodell; they'd had some contentious moments over the previous year -- particularly when the NFLPA walked away from negotiations in March, dissatisfied at what it considered the NFL's slow pace in the negotiations -- and each having trust issues with the other.

The NFL canceled its annual rookie symposium on May 24 because of the current lockout, and the NFLPA quickly moved to run the symposium for the first time ever. Some in the NFL saw that as a blatant publicity-grab by the players association, designed to make the league look bad for canceling such a valuable orientation tool for rookies. But with Goodell now to be one of the event's keynote speakers, it's a sign the two sides are building a bridge toward a new collective bargaining agreement. There's very little chance Smith would have asked Goodell to attend an NFLPA-run event if the two sides weren't making significant progress toward a new labor deal.

None of this should mask the fact that the two sides still have significant progress to make after multiple meetings in different parts of the country. One player representative told SI.com recently that he'd been told by the union that a deal is not imminent. But the signs continue to be good with meaningful dialogue and concessions from both sides apparently happening.

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