Updated 3:12 p.m. ET Thursday
The secret talks amongst owners in a west Chicago suburb on Wednesday got more interesting Thursday, as ESPN and the NFL Network reported NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was on hand, along with Judge Arthur Boylan and multiple players.
The NFL and NFLPA released the following statement Thursday afternoon confirming the talks took place:
"The parties met pursuant to court mediation. Owners and players were engaged in confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan. The court has ordered continued confidentiality of the mediation sessions."
It was Boylan who got the two sides back together before Friday's hearing, according to Newsday's Bob Glauber.
Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs reported Wednesday night that commissioner Roger Goodell, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson flew into DuPage Airport, 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. Biggs said the meetings Thursday took place at Hotel Baker in suburban St. Charles.
NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported that Giants owner John Mara and Steelers owner Art Rooney were also present for the meeting.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter and NFL Network's Albert Breer followed up, confirming that Smith joined the owners in Chicago, as the two sides work to settle their differences with Friday's hearing looming. According to the ESPN report, the meeting was kept so secretive that other NFL owners were unaware it was taking place.
Schefter reported that Kevin Mawae, Mike Vrabel and Jeff Saturday were among the players present at the meeting.
The two sides have been unable to negotiate a new labor agreement. The NFLPA decertified in March when talks broke down, leading to the current NFL lockout.
The lawyers representing the two sides will be in court Friday in St. Louis in front of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the beginning of the hearing on the league's appeal of Judge Susan Nelson's decision to end the lockout. There are no further negotiations scheduled for the public, as Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal tweeted that the Minnesota federal court has canceled the meetings set for next week, instead opting for confidential talks with the two parties.
The way we see it
While it is unknown what was accomplished at the meeting that is far from secret at this point, any time the two sides are communicating with one another is a positive sign.
The owners currently hold the leverage thanks to a decision on a permanent stay of the lockout. The wording in the decision on the stay seemed to suggest that the owners will win the appeals hearing that begins Friday, which would pressure the players to agree to a deal to be sure the 2011 season begins on time.