Mediation progress occurred before court ruling

Commissioner Roger Goodell (2nd, left) is accompanied by NFL attorney Jeff Pash (far left) and Art Rooney II (far right) heading into Tuesday's mediation

Sources inside the federal mediation session between the NFL and its locked-out players said a measure of progress was reached Monday when the league presented what was considered its most substantive exchange to date.

This came hours before the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the NFL a stay in a strongly worded, pro-ownership decision that rocked the current labor impasse between the league and its players.

The league had already offered an exchange to the players that addressed a number of specific issues, a break from past sessions where "there was an inability to get beyond differences," according to one of the sources. Progress in talks between the two sides had been initially reported by ESPN on Monday.

"There was not a sufficient exchange before," the source said. "Monday there was. It was an adequate exchange of ideas that hopefully can be continued."

However, a deal to end the 67-day lockout is not imminent, the source cautioned. Sources would speak only without attribution and none would provide precise details of Monday's mediation or specifics of the owners' exchange.

What the league presented, however, is seen as something that can be built upon. The players and former players' sides are likely to respond to the terms. While that isn't necessarily enough to end the lockout, it does represent a step forward in what had been a stagnant process.

For the first time in a while, optimism was felt by some people directly involved in the process. That said, another players' side source, who wasn't in the room, said he was less hopeful.

The NFL has long contended that the collective bargaining agreement needs to be hashed out in mediation, not the courts, where the decertified union took it. The Eighth Circuit's stay, which foreshadows a more decisive victory for the owners in June, may push the players to work toward an agreement.

The player's strategy is now on shaky legal ground, and without the leverage an anti-trust suit could provide, they could be more interested in making a deal before any games &ndash and paychecks – are lost. The NFL is set to open its season Sept. 8.

"Everyone understands it's better if the parties affected exercise control of their own destiny," said the players' side source.

A group of 15 to 20 people representing the owners, current players and retired players reconvene at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis on Tuesday.

The two-day, court-ordered session ends Tuesday afternoon, and setting up the logistics for future discussion should be done by day's end.

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