NFL labor talks appear to be near collapse

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:24 AM

The NFL was back on the brink of labor strife Thursday, as stalled negotiations between the league and the players' union left both sides braced for a bitter labor showdown that could begin as early as Friday afternoon.

Frustrated NFL and union officials exchanged angry accusations as the talks headed toward collapse, threatening the nation's most popular sport with its first work stoppage since players went on strike in 1987.

With their third bargaining deadline looming Friday, it appeared that federal mediator George H. Cohen would have difficulty getting the parties to agree to another postponement.

Neither side seemed to consider a settlement within immediate reach.

"If both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done," Jeff Pash, the lead negotiator for the league, said early Thursday night. "I don't know if both sides have an equal commitment. You've heard plenty of what I've heard as well."

Pash said the owners are committed to a deal, adding he was "not suggesting anything about the other side."

DeMaurice Smith, the union's executive director, returned to the sidewalk outside the mediator's office to speak to reporters in a rainstorm and respond to Pash's comments.

"We're committed to this process," Smith said, reiterating the union's long-standing contention that the owners have been readying for a lockout for several years. "We have been committed to this process. But for anyone to stand and turn to the American people and say that they question that . . . I understand that there's probably some things that Jeff Pash has to say."

Smith wrote earlier Thursday on Twitter that players should "stay strong" and "stay informed" and they would be given an update by 2 p.m. Friday.

That prompted speculation by some within the sport that negotiations could be cut off by then, barring unexpected progress.

The sport's current labor deal runs through 11:59 p.m. Friday after two postponements totaling eight days.

Because of notification deadlines in court and elsewhere, the players would be likely to decertify the union by late Friday afternoon, hours before the labor agreement expires.

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