Add a new player to the labor discussions between the NFL and the NFL Players Association: an international investment bank.
The union retained the services of a bank today to help review financial documents the league might release in the ongoing labor negotiations between the sides.
Due to a confidentiality agreement, the name of the bank cannot be released until the agreement is finalized.
"The players are serious about getting a deal done, and we need an accurate understanding of what the numbers actually mean," says executive committee member Scott Fujita. "More importantly, if we don't get the full audited financial statements, we need to know what other information we need to make an informed decision. That's where this investment bank has been hired to help us out."
According to one source, the league has only released summary financial statements from the past two years, which does not provide the details and transparency that the union has been seeking since the owners first asked for an additional $1 billion in expense credits to grow the game.
The league received slightly more than $1 billion in expense credits in 2010, but contends that economic changes have increased the financial risks associated with growing the game -- i.e., stadium construction and renovation, media outlets and international games.
The players say they are willing to work with the owners, but first want verifiable proof that the owners are facing hardships. Their repeated requests for the owners to open their financial books have been rebuffed to date.
The NFL's lead labor negotiator, Jeff Pash, said the bank has not contacted the league.
"We feel like we've given a lot of financial information. And we understand they may have a different view," Pash said. "But I'm not going to get into what we discussed with them this week."
He was part an NFL group Tuesday that included Commissioner Roger Goodell, New York Giants owner John Mara, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay -- chairman of the league's competition committee - and Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen.
The NFLPA contingent included executive director DeMaurice Smith, president Kevin Mawae and several current or former players, including Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel and Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
Top NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler wasn't present Monday or Tuesday.
When Smith exited after the longest of the 13 days of mediation since it began Feb. 18, he was asked why the union brought aboard the investment bank.
"Look, this is a $9 billion business, and the players are - and have been - very involved in what we call the business of football," Smith said.
"Having the best and brightest people in the world advising us on financial matters - that's just good business," he added.
If a deal isn't reached by Friday, the sides could agree to another extension. Or talks could break off, leading to, possibly, a lockout by owners or antitrust lawsuits by players.
The NFL has not lost games to a work stoppage in nearly a quarter-century. By agreeing to continue with mediation, the league and union made it clear neither was quite ready to make the drastic move of shutting down a sport that is more popular than ever. The past two Super Bowls rank No. 1 and No. 2 among most-watched TV programs in U.S. history.
Fujita said he's "hopeful" a deal can be reached by Friday, but he also noted: "'Hope' -- I don't know if that means anything."
Either way, he considers it imperative that the players know more about the owners' financial records.
"What they've provided so far hasn't been sufficient. Asking for almost a billion dollars back - that's a huge, huge leap of faith. And that's kind of what it's been so far - them asking us to take a leap of faith," Fujita said. "And we can't do that without sound judgment."