Union director calls talks productive

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Describing negotiations toward a new labor agreement as positive, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said Friday that the sides are scheduled to meet again later this month.

Smith said talks between the NFLPA and owners have focused mostly on what he feels are "non-core" issues, but he believes they have been productive.

"They were able to provide us with information and concrete proposals, and details about things they were concerned about, and we got the information and were able to respond to specific information," said Smith, who was at Gillette Stadium to talk to the New England Patriots on the 29th stop of his 32-team tour in which he is visiting players from every NFL franchise.

"So my hope is that as we move from sort of the non-core things, that we can keep that same framework of providing relevant information and sitting down and trying to work through a good deal. I think that is how you get a deal done."

Smith said the sides have had several meetings, he's optimistic a deal can be struck, and rated his urgency to complete a deal at "14" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Still, Smith said he's advised players to save 25 percent of their salaries in 2009 and 2010. He also pointed out that players have voted to increase their dues and hold their royalty checks to prepare for the possibility of an agreement not being reached.

"I look at the way in which it looks like we're moving to this lockout, and first and foremost, we have to be in a position where our young men are in a position to be able to take care of themselves and their families," he said.

Smith, who will finish his 32-team tour with visits to the Broncos, Falcons and Rams, is hopeful it won't come to that.

"As we are battling our way through a recession and blessed to have a game that experts have come to a conclusion is recession-proof, I have to believe that we should be able to set an example for the rest of America that while business has been tremendously good for all of us, now is not the time for us to stake a lockout of that game in order to achieve a bargaining advantage," he said.

Mike Reiss covers the NFL and the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.