FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will spend the weekend preparing for the next set of negotiations, energized by this week's secret talks that he believes show both sides are committed to ending the labor dispute.
While the owners and players spent Friday in a St. Louis courtroom arguing over the legality of the lockout, Goodell visited with troops at a U.S. Army base in North Carolina with Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.
At the end of a long day at Fort Bragg that included trying on — but not using — a parachute, Goodell took questions from soldiers before telling reporters there's some reason for optimism following the talks in Chicago.
"The importance is to have the principles talk," Goodell said. "That's what we were interested in doing, have the owners and players talk to one another. That was accomplished this week. ... That's a positive sign for us."
Goodell was far from specific — he wouldn't say when the next round of talks would be held or if the owners will be preparing another offer — but acknowledged both sides showed a willingness to work toward a deal.
He wouldn't say how the two sides would compromise on the stumbling blocks in the negotiations, mostly notably how to divvy up $9 billion in annual revenue.
"I would just tell you that both sides are committed to continuing the dialogue," Goodell said. "In negotiations, you're making different suggestions, recommendations and proposals from time to time. I think both sides will do that in a responsible fashion."
Goodell agreed that having the lawyers absent and the players and owners meeting directly — Rivera acknowledged Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was there — helped get the talks rolling.
"I still believe principle to principle is the best way to really get the kind of dialogue you need so people understand the different perspectives," Goodell said.
But time is running out. Already free agency has been delayed, minicamps canceled and optional workouts put on hold. Training camps are scheduled to open next month.
Goodell wasn't spared from the fans' frustrations at Fort Bragg. One soldier accused the owners of being the players' "No. 1 distraction" and asked Goodell, "Where's the passion, the love of game?"
"I understand the frustration and criticism because people want football," Goodell said. "You hear that everywhere you go. I heard that all day today. That's what we're in the business of doing. You have to make sure you're taking the right steps, though, to protect the game for a long-term basis."