MINNEAPOLIS — The day began with the NFL commissioner and the union's head starting another round of talks, this one set to run through Friday, aimed at ending a lockout that is now in its fourth month.
By sundown Tuesday, Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith were on a plane to Florida where they planned to speak to rookies today before heading back to Minneapolis to continue negotiations.
A signal that an end to the labor strife was in sight?
That was still to be determined, but with the traditional start of training camps just three weeks away, every move has taken on a heightened sense of importance.
Spokesmen for the league and the players' association confirmed that the two power brokers were on the same plane from Minnesota to address the NFLPA's rookie symposium this morning.
SI.com first reported that both Goodell and Smith were on their way to the joint appearance. Smith, the union's executive director, asked Goodell to speak to the group at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Sarasota, Fla., and the commissioner agreed.
The discussions between Goodell and Smith on Tuesday included no players or owners, according to several people familiar with the situation. They said the two sides planned to meet through Friday. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the negotiations were being kept private.
As for training camps, two teams have already opted to hold them at headquarters instead of offsite spots because of the labor uncertainty. Chicago and St. Louis are scheduled to play the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7.
Detroit Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson said earlier Tuesday he believes there still isn't enough urgency to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement — not yet.
"From a business perspective, nobody is losing anything right now," Jackson said at a youth sports camp in Walled Lake, Mich. "The owners haven't had to pay offseason bonuses — so they're making interest on the money they're not spending — and most of the players aren't used to getting paid until we start training camp in late July. Until then, I don't think we're missing much."
The lockout began on March 12, and players have not been allowed to train at team facilities or contact their coaches, with the exception of a few days in April when the lockout was briefly lifted.
Players on several teams have practiced on their own, trying to keep in football shape so they'll be prepared to get back to business on the field whenever the labor impasse ends.
The key issue in the dispute is how to divide revenues after the league took in about $9.3 billion last year.
Previous "secret meetings" have taken place in suburban Chicago, New York, the Maryland shore and last week in Hull, Mass., south of Boston. The federal courts in Minneapolis are familiar ground for both sides, since the current collective bargaining system was put together under court oversight here and it's where an antitrust lawsuit filed by players against the league is still pending.