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Union, NFL headed to mediation
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federally mediated negotiations between the NFL and the players' union have stretched 35 hours over five consecutive days — and they aren't done.

The mediation is voluntary — in theory, each side could walk away at any time — yet it now appears very likely that the current round of talks will stretch through Thursday, which would make for a full week.

One indication: The union sent a memo Tuesday to let player agents know that their meeting that was supposed to happen Thursday in Indianapolis is being postponed because of the mediation.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and members of their bargaining teams met for about eight hours Tuesday at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a U.S. government agency.

Among those joining Smith on Tuesday were Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and former player Sean Morey.

All participants have been abiding by mediator George Cohen's request not to discuss the talks publicly.

"You guys will just speculate too much on whatever I say," Hillenmeyer said when he left.

Union spokesman George Atallah wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press: "Every report about what's happening in the room at this point is pure speculation."

After months of infrequent and sometimes contentious bargaining, the league and union have been communicating face-to-face since Friday.

They agreed to try mediation in a bid to find common ground before the current labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3. The union has said it believes team owners want to lock out the players as soon as the next day, which could threaten the 2011 season.

One key member of the NFLPA negotiating team, outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, walked out Tuesday with a rolling suitcase and got into a waiting taxi. He was leaving town ahead of Thursday's hearing in Minneapolis in front of U.S. District Court judge David Doty for the union's appeal of a ruling about whether the NFL improperly negotiated TV contracts. Doty holds jurisdiction over NFL labor matters.

"I've got to focus now on Minnesota," Kessler said, "but I'll be back."

The NFLPA's memo putting off the scheduled meeting with agents at the NFL combine this week in Indianapolis was confirmed by Atallah after being first reported Tuesday by SportsBusiness Journal.

The meeting was postponed until Friday.

The league and union went more than two months without any formal bargaining until Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl. The sides met again once the next week, then called off a second meeting that had been scheduled for the following day.

The most recent CBA was signed in 2006, but owners exercised an opt-out clause in 2008.

The biggest issue separating the sides is how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenues. Among the other significant points in negotiations: a rookie wage scale; the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.