NFL, players agree to 7-day extension
The NFL owners and the NFL Players Association agreed Friday to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by one week to allow negotiations to continue, the NFL Network reported.
The labor deal was set to expire at 11:59 pm ET Friday after the sides agreed Thursday on a 24-hour extension. Since the sides are believed to still be far apart on the key issues, most expected that Friday's brief session in Washington, D.C., would be used to come to terms on a longer extension.
The new deadline for the expiration of the CBA is March 11 at 11:59pm ET, as the league hopes to avoid its first work stoppage since 1987. During the next week, teams won't be allowed to talk to free agents or make player transactions, but they will be able to talk with agents of their own players.
The two sides, led by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, will return Monday morning for more talks before federal mediator George Cohen.
Goodell said Friday the two sides have been hard at work in the mediation sessions, but refused to divulge any details of what has been discussed.
"We are continuing to work hard, trying to identify solutions," he told reporters. "We believe that, as I've said many times before, that this will be solved through negotiations. And that's what we're focused on. So we'll continue to work hard. We'll be back next week."
Smith thanked NFL fans for their patience, while also refusing to discuss whether progress had been made toward a deal.
"There's a commitment from both sides to engage in another round of negotiations at the request of the mediation service," Smith said. "We look forward to a deal coming out of that. What we have always had is our core is the football our players love to play and that our fans love to watch it. There's never going to be a day where we're not going to have those two first and foremost in our minds."
If talks break down, and a lockout appears inevitable, the players union is expected to decertify and seek an injunction barring the owners from declaring a lockout.
The NFL receives an exemption from Congress on antitrust laws, but it is contingent on the players receiving a collectively bargained labor deal. Decertification of the NFLPA would enable the players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL.
According to multiple reports, the NFLPA plans to enlist star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees to be the lead plaintiffs if a lawsuit is pursued.
Goodell expressed optimism Friday that such a legal process would not have to play out.
"As I've repeated over and over again, this is going to get resolved through negotiations. Not through litigation. So talking is better than litigating," Goodell said.
President Obama weighed in on the situation Thursday, saying that he hoped the sides could find a "sensible way" to divide up the league's $9 billion in revenue without the White House having to intervene.
Under the current deal, the owners take a $1 billion credit from the total revenues, and share 60 percent of the remaining $8 billion with players. The owners want to take a $2 billion credit off the top in the next agreement, before sharing the remaining revenue.
The NFLPA has said it wants to examine all 32 teams' financial records before signing off on the owners' additional $1 billion credit. The owners have so far refused to provide the financial information to the NFLPA.
The NFLPA received a major victory Tuesday in the form of a ruling by U.S. District Judge David Doty, who refused to allow the league's owners to have access to $4 billion in television revenue.
The broadcast networks -- CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN -- had agreed to pay the NFL even if a lockout meant that the 2011 regular season would be shortened or canceled.
Doty wrote that the NFL owners had enhanced their "long-term interests at the expense of its present obligations" in negotiating a deal specifically to allow them to lock the players out, and still make money.
The NFL claimed that Doty's decision would have "no effect" on the labor negotiations, saying the league had been prepared for "any contingency."
The other major issues on the table include health benefits for players after they retire, drug testing, creating a new rookie salary scale, and the NFL's desire to increase the regular season from 16 games to 18.