League, players' union agree to 24-hour extension in labor talks

By Jason La Canfora NFL Network
NFL Network Insider
March 3, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed Thursday to a 24-hour extension of the negotiating window for a new collective bargaining agreement, sources told NFL Network's Kara Henderson.

Momentum to approve the idea of "stopping the clock" built throughout Thursday as the sides met for over eight hours in front of federal mediator George Cohen.

The original expiration date for the current CBA had been 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday. Now the union's deadline to possibly decertify is 4 p.m. ET Friday, according to NFL Network's Albert Breer.

The 24-hour extension could very well lead to a longer extension, according to a league source.

U.S. District Judge David Doty was in his chambers in Minnesota, prepared to review whatever was put his way. However, Todd Winter, one of Doty's law clerks, said the office wouldn't comment on anything regarding CBA negotiations at this time.

Doty would have to sign-off on any extension before it becomes valid.

"We're going to keep working," NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said Thursday.

"We're working as hard as we can," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said upon leaving the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services offices Thursday.

Many members of both negotiating teams remained inside the FMCS offices, according to league sources. The departure of some members has not stopped the dialogue. Multiple people remain and one source said, talks with Cohen "could go late."

During the one-day extension, teams can still operate under current CBA, according to a league source. Teams can still release players up to the Friday waiver deadline, as well as sign existing free agents or extend player contracts.

The NFLPA isn't willing to take decertification -- as defined by the rights in the current CBA -- off the table, according to sources, just as the NFL is certain not to rule out the possibility of a lockout.

A time extension or "stopping the clock" occurred during the 2006 labor negotiations, and a deal ultimately was reached. The NFLPA was prepared to decertify Thursday if no deal or extension was reached.

If the union eventually decertifies, sources told Breer that quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees would serve as the lead plaintiffs in any potential antitrust lawsuit filed against the league.

The union has been asking league owners to open their books and reveal more economic data about expenses and revenue. After meeting with Cohen on Wednesday night, a source said, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his negotiating team were in a position where they would be inclined to reveal more financial data at Thursday's session.

The labor talks even have drawn the attention of the nation's first fan -- President Barack Obama.

"You have owners worth close to a billion, players making millions. The parties should be able to work it out," Obama said in a statement Thursday. "I'm a big football fan. For an industry making $9 billion, I'd hope they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way. ... I hope they can come to an agreement without me having to intervene."

Goodell and the NFL's negotiating team arrived at the mediator's headquarters about 45 minutes ahead of NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and his group.

Staring at the first pro football work stoppage since 1987, Goodell said Thursday morning, "We're working hard."

Also on hand for the NFL were lead negotiator Jeff Pash, outside counsel Bob Batterman, New York Giants owner John Mara, Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and several other league executives. Mara and Murphy are members of the league's labor committee, which has the authority to call for a lockout if a new agreement isn't reached.

"We'll stay at it as long as it takes," Pash said before the 10th mediation session at Cohen's office.

The owners didn't spend much time Wednesday discussing where the negotiations stood, cutting their planned two-day meeting to a three-hour affair at a suburban hotel. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, also members of the labor committee, headed home rather than stick around for further talks with the union.

There was a flurry of activity Wednesday: a four-hour mediation session attended by all 10 members of the owners' labor committee, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees; the three-hour owners meeting at a hotel 25 miles away in Chantilly, Va.; a one-hour meeting of the league's labor committee immediately after the owners broke up; the cancellation of another planned gathering of owners Thursday; and a private visit with Cohen starting at 8 p.m. by Goodell, two top league lawyers, Mara and Murphy.

The biggest sticking point in negotiations has been how to divide the league's revenues, including what cut team owners should receive up front to help cover certain costs, such as stadium construction. Under the old deal, owners received about $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to add another $1 billion to that.

Among the other significant topics: a rookie wage scale; the owners' push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.