Lawyers for the National Football League and its players union returned to federal court on Thursday to discuss a potential settlement of litigation over New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension, a court official confirmed to Reuters.
The two sides were meeting privately in New York with U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who has pressed both parties to seek a resolution before the Patriots’ season begins on Sept. 10.
Brady and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who imposed the four-game suspension, were not at the conference, the official said.
Both men had attended lengthy settlement discussions a day earlier following a court hearing before Berman, who lobbed tough questions at a lawyer for the league.
Unless a deal is reached, both sides are scheduled to appear before Berman again on Wednesday for oral arguments on whether he should uphold or vacate the suspension.
A spokesman for the National Football Players Association, Carl Francis, declined to comment on the settlement talks, citing an order from the judge. The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Brady was suspended for four games over his alleged role in a scheme to deflate footballs in the Patriots’ 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a January playoff game. Goodell confirmed Brady’s suspension on July 28.
Ted Wells, an attorney hired by the NFL to investigate how the footballs were inflated below league standards, placed the blame on two Patriots employees but said that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the plan.
An underinflated football is easier to grip for a quarterback, especially in raw outdoor conditions like January’s American Football Conference title game outside of Boston.
The Patriots’ victory in that game enabled the team to advance to the Super Bowl, where they beat the defending champion Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
The union claims Goodell was not an impartial arbiter because he had praised Wells’ work before the appeal, while the league has argued that Goodell was authorized to conduct the hearing under the terms of its labor agreement.
The NFL and the union have asked Berman to decide whether to uphold the suspension by Sept. 4, six days before New England’s 16-game season begins in a nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the injunction is not granted, Brady would not return until Oct. 18 when the Patriots visit the Colts.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg)