DeMaurice Smith

NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith was the only attorney present.

There have been cryptic reports surfacing this week that NFL owners and players were holding secret meetings in Chicago to resume negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement. In actuality, the league and players were in off-site mediation prompted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

What the hell does that mean for a new labor deal?

It could mean the sides are getting closer to a deal, but it probably doesn’t mean the lockout will be over anytime soon.

The league and players issued a joint statement earlier today.

“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.”

The federal court has cancelled a mediation session originally scheduled for next week, while Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal labeled this week’s two-day session as “settlement talks.”

The labor fight will go to the 8th Circuit Court June 3, where the league is appealing a lower court ruling that the lockout is illegal. It’s widely believed the NFL will win the appeal, but a decision isn’t expected before the end of June.

Although no one commented on the substance of this week’s meeting, neither side’s lawyers were present, which seems to be a positive development. NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith was the only attorney in the room.

“That was the point of the meeting,” said one of the players, who declined to go into more details. “No lawyers.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was present, also saw the meeting as a positive.

“We can’t make a comment about it at all but we’re trying,” Jones said. “We’re trying. I think the fact that we’re meeting is good.”

It will be interesting to see how things unfold after next week’s court session.