A small group of NFL owners were spotted "gathered in a western suburb of Chicago" for a "secret meeting," according to Brad Biggs of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Sources said that Patriots Owner Robert Kraft was seen yesterday afternoon "boarding his private jet at DuPage Airport, a little less than 24 hours after arriving." Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones' jet was present, and sources said that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "also arrived in West Chicago via private jet Tuesday." In addition, sources noted that Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson "was believed to be present." The meeting comes before tomorrow's hearing on the lockout in front of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The owners reportedly "are confident they will prevail" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/2). ESPN.com's Mortensen & Schefter report Goodell and the owners met with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, and the "two sides worked into the night." A source said that a potential deal for a new CBA "still was a ways away," though the "hope would be that the two sides could get something done sooner rather than later, potentially even later this month." The meeting was "so secretive that ... there were other NFL owners that didn't know what was taking place" (ESPN.com, 6/2). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora cited sources as saying that Steelers President Art Rooney II and Giants President & CEO John Mara "were also in attendance." A league source said that "several players were also scheduled to be present." The idea of the meeting "came together last week with the intention that the meeting in the Chicago suburbs be kept secret." Sources on both sides "continue to estimate a deal gets done sometime in late July or early August" (NFL.com, 6/2). The Washington Post’s Mark Maske cites a source as saying that mediator Arthur Boylan "participated in Wednesday's meeting between the league and players” The talks "began over dinner Tuesday," though it is "not clear if any formal bargaining took place" (TWITTER.com, 6/2).
POSITIVE SIGN: ESPN's Adam Schefter said the secret meeting is an "admission on both sides that too much time has passed without any talk, and that both sides need to get together to come together to see if they can bridge any of their differences to try to come up with a settlement that would bring about football and a new collective bargaining agreement." Schefter: "The fact that they're meeting is a very encouraging sign." If the two sides are “going to wait for the hearing on Friday and for the judges to weigh in -- and they may not do that until July -- we're threatening to miss training camp and if you miss training camp, then you're obviously putting at risk preseason games that generate revenue for both sides. I think that right now is why both sides were able to get together.” While it is "not as if a deal is imminent today," what the league and the NFLPA are doing is "laying the foundation to try to see if they can get a deal done at some point this month, by the end of the month before the judges would weigh in" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 6/2).
PATIENCE IS FADING: In Atlanta, D. Orlando Ledbetter notes ahead of tomorrow's hearing, NFL players are "starting to get a little edgy about possibly missing part" of the '11 season. Falcons QB Matt Ryan said, "The longer that it goes on, the tougher it becomes. ... We’ll see what happens on June 3 with the ruling. We still have time to get this thing done. I think we’ve got the right people on both sides to get it done. We’ll be playing when we need to play." FB Jason Snelling, who could become an unrestricted free agent when a new CBA is reached, said, "We kind of wonder at some point, what are we really fighting for? Do we want to play, do we want to just keep these things through the courts?" Ledbetter notes the "time is getting closer to where valuable free-agency time, training-camp dates and exhibition games may get sliced off the calendar" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 6/2). After tomorrow's hearing, the losing side "could appeal to the full Eighth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court," but legal experts believe that "both would be long shots." U.S. District Court Judge David Doty's ruling on damages in the NFL TV rights fees case is pending, "but that decision also could be appealed, leaving Friday's hearing and eventual decision as the focal point" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/2).