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Goodell says no games would damage league

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- While the NFL is planning to start the season on time, Commissioner Roger Goodell says players and owners will be hurt and the league will be damaged if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached.

Goodell reiterated that negotiations are the best way for the two sides to reach a new agreement and that he is troubled by what might happen if courts issue rulings that result in changes to the way the draft and free agency are conducted.

Speaking on a conference call from Minnesota with as many as 5,500 New York Giants' season-ticket holders, Goodell said his role in the talks is to bring the two sides together and help find a fair agreement.

The NFL and its locked-out players wrapped up their fourth day of court-ordered talks in Minneapolis on Wednesday with few signs of progress and no plans to meet again until mid-May.

"I worry not only about the financial impact to all parties but also the damage to our game and what it does in the eyes of our fans if we are unsuccessful," Goodell told Giants ticket holders. "That is why we are looking for solutions and why we want to continue to negotiate to get it resolved before any of that occurs.

"Make no mistake about it: It will have significant financial impact on the clubs," Goodell said.

The lockout is in its 40th day as the league and players disagree sharply on how to divide more than $9 billion in annual revenue.

Still, Goodell tried to sound optimistic as he spoke to Giants fans for 30 minutes during a break in talks. He said both sides realize how much the fans want a season and they are trying to identify solutions to their differences.

"We're planning to start the season on time," Goodell said. "We're planning to play a full season and we're going to negotiate as hard as we can to get that done. You obviously have to be prepared if you are unsuccessful, but I don't like to focus on that. I like to focus on being successful."


Court decisions are due soon.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is expected to decide on the players' request for an injunction to end the lockout.

U.S. District Judge David Doty on May 12 is scheduled to hear the players' request for damages after he ruled in March that the NFL did not maximize revenues for both sides when it renegotiated $4 billion in TV contracts with the labor dispute looming.


Ball in Smith's court

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers would welcome back quarterback Alex Smith if the 2005 first overall pick wants to return.

General Manager Trent Baalke said Wednesday that the 49ers have extended an "olive branch" to Smith to come back to the only NFL team he has ever known. All that started before the NFL locked out the players in the ongoing labor dispute.

Smith can't sign with San Francisco -- or any other team -- until the labor situation is settled and free agency begins. New coach Jim Harbaugh already has expressed confidence in Smith as a quarterback in his system, and Baalke made it clear that the 49ers made an offer for the free agent to return.

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