NEW YORK — Two weeks before a potential lockout, the NFL and the players union are asking for help in their stalled negotiations.
Both sides agreed Thursday to mediation as they discuss a new collective bargaining agreement. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent U.S. government agency, will oversee talks in Washington beginning today.
After holding separate discussions with representatives from the league and the union, FMCS director George H. Cohen said both sides agreed to have the agency mediate. Mediation is not binding.
"Any time that both sides of negotiations can get together, whether through conventional means of bargaining or mediation, to come to an agreement that can benefit all parties, it is a good thing," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said.
Negotiations broke down last week, leading to the cancellation of one planned session. The players are expecting the owners to lock them out if the CBA expires at midnight March 4 without a new agreement.
"Due to the extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS's long-standing practice, the agency will refrain from any public comment," Cohen said.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail: "We are now in mediation."
The league also switched an owners meeting from Fort Lauderdale on March 3, to Chantilly, Va., on March 2-3.
Cohen said negotiations will be conducted "under my auspices." He is no stranger to sports mediation. He was involved in Major League Soccer talks with its players union and a work stoppage was avoided last year. He also has worked with the players associations for Major League Baseball, helping end the 1994-95 strike as a consulting attorney, and the NBA, and was an adviser to the NHL players union before joining the FMCS.
Colts: Owner Jim Irsay said he has made QB Peyton Manning an offer worth more than the one signed by the Patriots' Tom Brady, who received a four-year, $72 million deal in September. Irsay said he's willing to sign Manning, who turns 35 next month, to a five- or six-year deal.
Raiders: Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, 31, became the most prominent potential free agent to sign a contract before a possible lockout next month when he finalized a $30 million, two-year deal, which includes $22.5 million in guaranteed money.