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League, players union agree to extend CBA deadline seven days

WASHINGTON -- The NFL Players Association and the league have agreed upon a seven-day extension of talks on a new collective bargaining agreement, one day after the sides agreed to a 24-hour extension of the expiration of the current CBA.

Negotiations are set to resume Monday, with the sides taking the weekend off. The seven-day clock will not stop over the weekend, meaning both parties will have five more days of negotiations, beginning Monday and lasting through Friday, March 11.

The NFLPA informed the league during Thursday's bargaining session that it would begin the decertification process on Friday, according to sources, unless the league agreed to a 10-day extension of the talks. The sides have compromised on seven days, during which they will continue mediator George H. Cohen's request not to publicly discuss details of the mediation.

The extension allows both sides the weekend to determine strategy and decide who should join the negotiating sessions for the final week with Cohen in Washington.

During Friday's one-day extension, teams were instructed to operate as if the CBA has expired, meaning they no longer can cut, re-sign players or make any player moves until a new CBA is bargained. The terms will remain the same under the new seven-day extension.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters Friday that the existing differences between the league and union are best addressed through continued communication.

"This is going to get resolved through negotiations, not through litigations," Goodell said. "So, talking is better than litigating."

Added Goodell: "We're going to continue to work as hard as we can. I promise."

Lead NFL negotiator Jeff Pash credited Cohen and his team for bringing structure, discipline and a seriousness of purpose to the labor discussions.

"There's been tremendous amount of discussion," Pash said. "It's time for us really 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.

"If both sides give a little, everyone can gain a lot. And that's what we have to try to do next week. It's a challenge. We've got very serious issues, we've got significant differences, but we are committed to collective bargaining."

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith noted both sides had committed to giving the talks a chance to move ahead.

"We look forward to a deal coming out of that," he said.

Smith was cautious when describing the tenor of the talks. Asked if he thinks the league has been negotiating in good faith, he said, "When you say something about trust or when you raise issues about things like confidence, none of those things are repaired quickly."

Reaction from around the league was swift and mildly upbeat.

"It's good they're talking. ... I don't know exactly what's being done or what's being said or why it's being extended, but at least they're talking," said Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski.

"Whether it's done by next week, I'm not sure about that," he said, "but at least it's moving."

Added player agent Ralph Cindrich: "Any time you have an extension in a negotiating process, it is positive. All the more so now because there is a mediator involved."

Friday's 24-hour extension was, in essence, to allow Goodell and the league's lawyers sufficient time to determine if the owners were willing to push the deadline back and "stop the clock" on the collective bargaining agreement for a longer period of time.

Each side met separately with Cohen on Friday at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

League representatives were first to arrive to discuss the terms of an extension.

Smith and Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters arrived about two hours later for their own two-hour session. Smith left the building at 1 p.m. ET and refused to answer questions.

"We want to continue to thank our fans for still being patient as we work through this," Smith said.

A union source told NFL Network's Albert Breer on Friday that "we've made more real activity in the last 24-48 hours than we did in two years." A second union source acknowledged the forward motion, but emphasized that major issues remain in the negotiation.

Pash said earlier that Friday's goal was to extend the deadline.

"If we can make the kind of progress that you needed to make to have a further extension, that's where we'd be looking," Pash said. "Hopefully, we can make some progress and keep this thing going. That's obviously in everybody's interest. It's been our goal all along and we're going to just keep at it."

Goodell said, "We're going back to work hard again," but gave no indication what he expects to happen.

The sides hope to avoid the first work stoppage since 1987 for a league that rakes in $9 billion annually. The labor unrest comes as the NFL is at the height of its popularity, breaking records for television ratings: This year's Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. history.

The CBA was extended during the 2006 labor negotiations, and a deal ultimately was reached.

Sources said the NFLPA still isn't willing to rule out decertification, which is not unheard of, as the NFLPA decertified in 1989, then formed again in 1993.

If decertifies occurs, sources say 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 asked league owners to open their books and reveal more data about expenses and revenue. After meeting with Cohen on Wednesday night, a source said, Goodell and his negotiating team were more inclined to reveal additional financial information at Thursday's session.

But Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday cautioned earlier in the week that both sides are "still apart" on a pact to replace the current CBA.

"I don't see how we can be that close right now unless somebody is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat," he said. "I just don't see it."

Even President Barack Obama weighed in Thursday when asked if he would intervene in the dispute.

"I'm a big football fan," Obama said, "but I also think that for an industry that's making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way and be true to their fans, who are the ones who obviously allow for all the money that they're making. So my expectation and hope is that they will resolve it without me intervening, because it turns out I've got a lot of other stuff to do."

The biggest sticking point all along 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.

Since the 1987 players' strike that shortened the season to 15 games -- with three of those games featuring non-union replacement players -- there has been labor peace in the NFL. The foundation of the current CBA was reached in 1993 by then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and union chief Gene Upshaw. It has been extended five times as revenues soared, the league expanded to 32 profitable teams, and new stadiums were built across America to house them.

The contract extension reached in 2006 was the final major act for Tagliabue, who then retired, succeeded by Goodell. An opt-out clause for each side was included in that deal, and the owners exercised it in May 2008 -- three months before Upshaw died.

Smith replaced Upshaw as the union's leader in March 2009.

NFL Network's Albert Breer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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