WASHINGTON — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke face-to-face in New York on Wednesday while more than a dozen current or former players were on Capitol Hill for face time with lawmakers and congressional staffers.
Union spokesman George Atallah characterized the session between Goodell and Smith as "an effort to advance the bargaining," rather than a formal negotiating session toward a new labor contract. Atallah would not discuss the meeting's substance.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment via e-mail and would not confirm that the leaders were meeting.
The league and union acknowledged last week that they have not held a large-group bargaining session since November. The present collective bargaining agreement — it was agreed to in 2006, but owners activated an opt-out clause — expires in early March, and the union expects owners to lock out the players.
At an owners' meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday, Goodell complained that "there's not enough communication" between the sides. Also in Atlanta, Jeff Pash, the league's lead labor negotiator, took a swipe at the union by saying: "If our focus is going to be on litigating, on decertification, on meetings in Washington, on media events, it will be hard to get a deal done."
The union has held team-by-team votes to approve decertification, which would allow the players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the league if there is a lockout.
On Wednesday, 13 current and three former players headed to the Hill. Atallah said the union merely wants to have "a presence on the Hill" and isn't interested in negotiating through Congress.
Bucs' Barber: Cornerback Ronde Barber intends to return for a 15th season with the Bucs, but he still needs to meet with general manager Mark Dominik and a contract agreement has to be reached. "I'm not trying to create any drama about my situation," Barber said in a text message. "I just haven't spoken to Mark about next year yet. I'm certain I will soon, though. (Coach Raheem Morris') intentions are very clear though (about Barber returning), and I would be lying if I thought otherwise at this point. But nothing is done.''
YOUNG DETERMINED: Vince Young hopes to start for a team, the current Titans quarterback said in a segment that aired on ESPN. Young, likely to be released by Tennessee, said he will work to let his next team know he's an elite QB who just wants to win and be the best.
EARLY ENTRIES: Auburn's Cam Newton and Nick Fairley were among 56 nonseniors who applied for April's NFL draft, a record total but only three more than last year. The uncertainty surrounding the league's labor situation does not appear to have had a significant effect.
PRO BOWL: Michael Griffin of the Titans is replacing injured Ravens safety Ed Reed on the AFC roster.
COWBOYS: Rob Ryan, son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan and twin brother of Jets coach Rex Ryan, was officially named defensive coordinator.
EAGLES: Longtime Titans assistant Jim Washburn was hired as defensive line coach.
PANTHERS: Sean McDermott was hired to be new coach Ron Rivera's defensive coordinator.
RAIDERS: The team received permission to talk to Ravens assistant Al Saunders to fill its offensive coordinator job.
SEAHAWKS: Coach Pete Carroll said re-signing QB Matt Hasselbeck is the top offseason priority.
VIKINGS: Falcons assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave agreed to become offensive coordinator.