The NFL owners and players are going to overtime.
The two sides, feverishly trying to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, agreed with the suggestion of a federal mediator George Cohen on Friday to extend the expiration of the current labor deal by one week, until 5 p.m. next Friday.
It was the second time in two days the two sides agreed to an extension, following Thursday’s decision to extend negotiations for another day.
The extension followed 11 days of negotiations in front of Cohen in Washington, D.C., and temporarily averted the league’s first work stoppage since 1987.
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Without a new CBA, the owners could lock out the players, and the union could decertify to try and prevent through the courts -- something the NFLPA did in 1989. It formed again in 1993.
“This is going to get resolved through negotiations, not through litigation,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters in Washington. “We’re going to continue to work as hard as we can. I promise.”
The biggest sticking point between the two sides is how to divide the league's $9 billion in revenues, including what percentage team owners should get up front to help cover certain costs, such as stadium construction. Under the old deal, players were to receive 60 percent of revenues, but the owners took $1 billion off the top and now want to take an additional $1 billion, or tantamount to an 18 percent pay cut for the players.
Cohen told reporters the best way to facilitate negotiations is by making everything said in the sessions confidential and off-the-record as a way to encourage parties to “fully, frankly and candidly talk to each other, and I’m pleased to say, that we have achieved that level of dialog and constructive discussion.”
To that end, both sides agreed not to discuss any specifics of the negotiations or where progress has or has not been made.
“It’s time for us to dig deep and try to find solutions and try to be creative and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody,” said Jeff Pash, one of the lead negotiators for the NFL. “If both give a little, everyone can gain a lot.”
The two sides will take the weekend off and resume negotiations on Monday.
“There’s a commitment from both sides to engage in another round of negotiations, and we look forward to a deal coming out of that,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association.
The seven-day extension would appear to be an indication the sides are moving closer to an agreement, said Gary R. Roberts, dean and professor at the Indiana University Law School-Indianapolis, and an expert in sports law.
“I don’t think they would both just be posturing; it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Roberts said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re close to a deal, it just means they’re willing to keep beating their head against the wall.
“Neither side wants to look like the bad guy. The union said (Thursday), ‘We’re willing to extend it seven-to-10 days,’ and if the NFL had come back and said, ‘No,’ that would not have looked very good. What’s the downside from the league’s standpoint of extending it another seven days?"
Roberts said there’s no guarantee the two sides won’t extend the deadline even further, especially if it would avoid having to go to court.
“They could keep extending it on and on and on, as long as neither side wants to pull the trigger on their legal weapons the union decertifies and files an anti-trust suit, or the league locking the players out formally.
“If both sides are willing to continue on talking without having to do either of those things, there’s no reason they couldn’t keep extending it week after week.”
Until an agreement is reached, teams cannot sign players or make trades, though the NFL draft will take place at the end of April.