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Giants' Mara optimistic season will go on

In the midst of a work stoppage, the NFL is pressing forward in preparing for the upcoming season.

New York Giants owner John Mara said it is business as usual for the league in terms of preparing for training camp, the regular season and other logistical matters.

"Absolutely we're going ahead as if the 2011 season is going to happen," Mara said Sunday at the Roosevelt Hotel, where NFL owners meetings are set to begin today. "The only thing that's different is we're not talking to free agents right now."

However, there can't be a season until the owners and players return to the negotiating table and hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. It does not appear that is going to happen for a while.

The players filed an antitrust lawsuit against the owners, who imposed a lockout once the union decertified after 16 days of mediated negotiations in Washington, D.C., came and went without a new CBA. An April 6 hearing is scheduled in Minnesota federal court, where a judge will decide whether to grant the players' request for an injunction that would end the lockout.

Whether the two sides will return to the negotiating table before the hearing remains to be seen. But Mara said the owners are ready to talk if the players are willing.

"Absolutely we were motivated to stay in Washington and continue negotiating, but they chose to go a different route," he said.

Despite the seemingly bleak prospects of a deal getting done in the near future, the league is going full speed ahead with the season.

"We're still optimistic that there's going to be a 2011 season," Mara said. "We're preparing as if there will be one."

That optimism was shared by Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix.

"We think we're going to play," he said. "We're going to try to be ready when and if they decide we are playing and then we'll play by the rules they give us."

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There has been a strong belief in Buffalo that the Bills are actively considering Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the third pick in the draft. But there is a chance Newton might be gone by then.

One of the early rumors circulating at the owners meetings is the Carolina Panthers are leaning toward Newton. Also believed to be in the mix are Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

Not surprisingly, Carolina coach Ron Rivera wouldn't show his hand.

"We have a lot of needs and there are some very good players in this draft that can help us," he said Sunday. "We will decide as an organization who is the right fit for us and who will make us a better football team."

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Bills executives Jeffrey Littman and Mary Owen will be very busy the next two days attending meetings of the numerous committees they are part of.

Littman, the Bills' treasurer, is on the investment committee and a member of the CEC executive working group, a subcommittee of the Management Council Executive Committee. Owen, the Bills' executive vice president, strategic planning, is on the Super Bowl advisory and International committees as well as the NFL Charities board of directors and the advisory committee on NFL giving.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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