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Pash: League could extend deadline if gap in labor talks closes

WASHINGTON -- NFL owners would be open to extending the deadline for expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, general counsel Jeff Pash said Wednesday morning before the league and the NFL Players Association met for a four-hour negotiating session.

"I think we have to see where we're at," Pash said before entering the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office of George Cohen. "I think that's an option. We're not taking anything off the table."


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The current CBA is scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday.

The NFL group, which included the entire 10-man labor committee, departed for a previously scheduled two-day meeting in nearby Chantilly, Va., at approximately 2 p.m. ET. That meeting is intended to provide updates to the full ownership group and determine next steps in the negotiating process.

The players' union group exited the mediator's office shortly after the league group did but tentatively planned to return around 6 p.m. ET. The NFL group could come back tonight, too, depending on how its meeting goes, and the union is awaiting word from the league on that.

"We're talking," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said. "That's better than not talking."

The mediation also is expected to continue Thursday morning.

"I think it's important to reach an agreement as soon as you can," Pash said. "We've talked about the damage uncertainty does to the league, the damage uncertainty does to the players."

Mawae and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, an NFLPA executive committee member, joined the mediation for the first time Wednesday.

"Hopefully we get a little closer to where we need to be," Mawae said.

Wednesday also marked the first time the entire NFL labor committee participated in the negotiations.

The NFL's executive committee is comprised of owners Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers, Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos, Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Mara of the New York Giants, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers and Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals, as well as Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy.

"We decided it would be a good idea for our full committee to meet with this mediation process," Richardson said. "Our objective, of course, is to negotiate a fair agreement for players and teams. So far, we obviously haven't had success. We're optimistic in due time we will."

In an exclusive interview with NFL Network, Brees was asked why he believed it was important for a player of his stature to be involved in the talks.

"Because I feel like I can make a difference," he said. "I feel like I represent all 1,900 players in this league, just as all the players who are involved do.

"I know how many have sacrificed on my behalf in the past. I'm just trying to do the same for them."

The NFL's labor committee arrived in the D.C. area Tuesday and met over dinner, shortly after a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Doty in Minneapolis in which he sided with the union by overruling a special master's Feb. 1 decision to reject the NFLPA's request that $4 billion in 2011 payments from networks to the league be placed in escrow if there is a lockout.

"It doesn't change the dynamic for us," Pash said. "It was very clear the TV money was a loan. The decision was not unexpected."

Mawae believes the ruling works in the players' favor.

"I feel great we won the case with Doty," he said.

The mediation in front of Cohen, which resumed Tuesday for six hours after a weekend break, doesn't have a definite end point. Cohen had cleared his schedule to continue mediation at least through Wednesday.

Another large group of players accompanied NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith on Wednesday, including Mawae, Brees, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch, Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel and Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth.

The CBA runs out at midnight as Thursday becomes Friday on the East Coast, and the owners could lock out the players afterward. The union also could decertify -- essentially, declare itself out of the business of representing players -- and let the players take their chances in court.

"We're less than two days away from the deadline, so obviously this is crunch time," Brees said. "We, as players, want to get a deal done. There is definitely a sense of urgency on our side."

Whatever happens between now and Friday eventually could wind up causing the country's most popular sports league to lose regular-season games to a work stoppage for the first time since 1987. Or everything could be resolved by management and labor in an industry with revenues topping $9 billion annually.

The biggest sticking point all along has been how to divide those revenues, including what cut team owners should get up front to help cover certain costs, such as stadium construction. Under the old deal, owners received $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to double that.

Among the other significant topics in negotiations: 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.

In many respects, the labor talks boil down to money. And there is plenty of money at risk the longer it takes for the league and NFLPA to work together again.

The league estimates there would be a cut in gross revenues of $350 million if there's no new CBA by August, before the preseason starts, and a loss of revenues totaling $1 billion if no new contract is in place until September. And if regular-season games are lost in 2011, the NFL figures that revenue losses would amount to about $400 million per week.

If the league locks out the players, everything would stop except the NFL Draft on April 28-30, and any interviews or workouts teams hold for college players leading up to the draft. After that, though, teams wouldn't be able to contact their picks or sign undrafted rookies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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