NFL, players extend labor talks by 24 hours
Friday, March 4, 2011; 12:45 AM
The NFL and its players' union paused at the precipice of labor strife Thursday, agreeing to extend talks on a new collective bargaining agreement by one day and averting a confrontation as they continue to work toward a new pact.
The 24-hour delay is designed to determine whether a longer postponement, perhaps a week, might offer any realistic hope for a settlement, according to sources on both sides of the dispute.
The labor deal between the league and the NFL Players Association now is scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday. It appeared late Thursday night that the union was willing to have the bargaining deadline postponed again but it wasn't clear if the league would agree. It was possible the sides would have separate meetings Friday with the mediator.
The agreement to extend the talks came about 5 p.m. Thursday, approximately seven hours before the labor agreement originally was scheduled to expire. Negotiators for the league and union met Thursday with mediator George H. Cohen at the downtown Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Cohen, the agency's director, announced the postponement in a one-sentence written statement that said, "The parties have agreed to a one-day extension."
DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, thanked fans when he spoke briefly to a large group of reporters gathered on the sidewalk outside the agency's offices on K Street NW.
"To all of our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this," Smith said. "We're going to keep working. We want to play football."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters Thursday, "We're working as hard as we can."
It was the 10th day of mediated negotiations under Cohen's supervision, three of which were this week. The participants continued to adhere to Cohen's request that they refrain from public comments about the specifics of the talks.
But sources around the sport, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are at a sensitive stage, said there was some movement in the bargaining late Wednesday night and Thursday. It was not enough to raise hopes of a settlement Friday, the sources said, but it was sufficient to prompt the parties to consider extending the talks another seven days.
The possibility of a postponement apparently was discussed Wednesday night when Cohen met with a contingent of NFL negotiators that included Goodell, attorneys Jeff Pash and Bob Batterman, New York Giants co-owner John Mara and Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy. Negotiators for the union rejoined the talks Thursday morning and discussions of a postponement intensified.
Hopes around the sport for a settlement likely would increase greatly if a one-week postponement is approved Friday. That would be a signal that the two sides believe a new agreement could be within reach.