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NFL negotiators agree to 7-day extension of talks

By Mark Maske

Negotiators for the NFL and its players' union approved a second postponement of their bargaining deadline for a new labor deal Friday, agreeing to talk for seven more days.

The extension increases hopes for an eventual settlement after some progress was made in negotiations Thursday.

Talks were expected to resume Monday. Sources said the postponement became official when it was ratified by the union's ruling executive committee. Union officials previously agreed to the one-week extension of the talks. The NFL agreed to the latest delay at the request of a federal mediator overseeing the talks.

"There's been enough serious discussion to warrant both sides taking this step and the mediators felt it and that's why they requested it of us," said the NFL's lead negotiator, Jeff Pash. "If they believe that we're in a position where we can make progress and get to an agreement, then I think it's incumbent upon us and our ownership feels it's incumbent to make that effort."

"There's a commitment from both sides to engage in another round of negotiations at the request of the mediation service," DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said at an afternoon news conference. "We look forward to a deal coming out of that."

The seven-day period will be governed by the same rules applied to Thursday's one-day extension of the talks. Teams cannot re-sign players or sign players released by other clubs, but are permitted to negotiate with them. The talks remain under the supervision of federal mediator George H. Cohen.

The league and union agreed to the one-day postponement of the deadline Thursday, preventing players from decertifying their union to file antitrust litigation against the franchise owners and the owners from locking out the players.

Some in the sport cautioned that significant differences between the two sides remain, especially on how to split the NFL's $9 billion annual revenue. The second extension does not necessarily mean that a settlement would follow soon.

Thursday's extension of the talks delayed the expiration of the current labor deal until 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Owners, who currently receive $1.3 billion toward expenses before the players' share of revenue is calculated, are seeking another $1 billion off the top. They also want to extend the regular season to 18 games, install a wage scale for rookies and test players for human growth hormone.

Players have said the owners' financial proposal amounts to a significant pay cut for them, and have expresed wariness about the other proposals.

Sources said there was movement by both sides in the bargaining Thursday.

Multiple sources cautioned that the status of the deliberations remained precarious when Friday began. But they agreed that another postponement is a sign that a labor settlement was becoming increasingly likely.

The leverage in the negotiations apparently tilted in the players' favor this week when Minneapolis-based U.S. District Judge David S. Doty ruled in the union's favor in a case involving the league's television contracts.

Doty ruled that the structure of the contracts violated the settlement agreement that accompanies the sport's collective bargaining agreement.

The union had alleged that the TV deals would provide the owners with, in effect, a $4 billion lockout fund during a work stoppage.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen B. Burbank, the NFL's special master, heard the case first and awarded the union only a fraction of the damages it was seeking. Burbank also refused to bar the owners from receiving payments from the TV networks next season during a potential lockout.

But the union appealed the case to Doty, who has overseen the sport's labor deal since the 1993 settlement. Doty agreed with the union that the TV contracts were improper and wrote that he would hold a hearing to determine damages and other possible remedies, such as an injunction.

People on the owners' side previously had said the owners could withstand a lengthy lockout, even one that lasted an entire season, without the TV money.

But Doty's ruling, combined with the imminent 11:59 p.m. bargaining deadline Thursday, seemed to produce a different tone and approach to Thursday's negotiations, sources said.

With union decertification by the players and a lockout by the owners looming within hours, each side showed a willingness Thursday to compromise on key issues.

If there is a settlement, it appears the league and union will find a middle ground on the central economic issue of how much revenue would go to the players under a salary cap system. The owners apparently would be credited with more than $1.3 billion for expenses before the players' portion is calculated, as it was under the most recent system, but they would not receive all of the additional $1 billion in credits they have been seeking.

The union might accept the owners' proposal for an 18-game regular season, sources said, if given concessions related to players' health and safety. According to sources, the two sides probably would agree to a rookie wage scale less restrictive than the one proposed by the league earlier in the bargaining.

Any settlement also would have to address the ongoing role of Doty in overseeing the labor deal, something favored by the union and opposed by the league.

Any breakdown in negotiations would put decertification and litigation by the players and a lockout by the owners back in play. The NFL has had labor peace since a strike by the players in 1987.

This is the 11th day of federal mediation under Cohen at the downtown Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, four of which have been this week.

The first postponement apparently took shape beginning Wednesday night when Cohen spoke with league representatives following a meeting of the owners at a hotel near Dulles Airport. The agreement for the one-day delay was completed around 5 p.m. Thursday, about seven hours before the labor deal originally was scheduled to expire.

By late Thursday night, there were indications that the union was on board with the second, longer postponement and Cohen needed only to secure the league's approval as well.

By Leonard Bernstein  |  March 4, 2011; 2:16 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: NFL, players talk about stopping the clock | Next: Sources: NFL, players $800 million apart on revenue split


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I must admit to being amazed at how many prople who hate pro football are on this forum. Maybe you all are having fun venting, but in the end you all are testifying to the fascination that this country had with pro football.

I'm a 'Skins fan and as usual I am hoping for better next season (even though it may require the removal of a certain owner, and that is something that is NOT on the table in these negotiations).

Fundamentally, this is about greed on both sides. It is also about new leadership on both sides of the table looking to show their worth.

In the end, both sides have too much to loose if the season is canceled or even curtailed. So as much as I hate to disappoint the football-haters here, I really believe that when push comes to shove that there will be a full 2011 pro football season.

Posted by: ems57fcva | March 4, 2011 11:50 PM

The world would be a better place without the NFL. I'm hoping for a long strike that will alienate fans and young players and turn us all into noble sports where paid assassins don't participate.

Posted by: chemsafe | March 4, 2011 4:55 PM

I agree with the comments related to not ahving a season next year. Lockout hte players, stop the owners from making any money. Wipe out the NFL and start over -- each city owns it's own team.

Posted by: hansonharley1 | March 4, 2011 3:53 PM

"There will not be a strike." SQUARF

Truer words were never written. Not once have the players threatened to strike now. Why should they? The owners are forcing the issues here; they claim they are losing money but will not (cannot) provide proof of those statements.

This all goes back to 1992, when after losing the (Reggie) White trial in Minneapolis Judge Doty told both sides to settle within 24 hours or he would impose a system that no one would like. A deal was done--essentially the backbone of the system that's lasted, with some permutations, until this week.

However, over time it's been obvious that the owners never truly understood what Paul Tagliabue and his cohorts came up with; they assumed they had (ha ha ha) put one over on Gene Upshaw and the players. They (owners) were wrong and have been trying to get back from players more and more money and benefits. Remember, before the 1983 strike--which was a strike, and the last one--owners were earning 70% of revenues and players got only 30%. Since then, the players--who assume all the risks--have virtually reversed those percentages, and yet, no owner can prove he's losing money.
Stay tuned.

Posted by: iliwai34 | March 4, 2011 2:44 PM

There will not be a strike. The attitude of the owners is that pro football players are otherwise unemployable gladiators who are lucky to have a job above the minimum wage. All concerned are engaged in a pseudo charade... as though they are people who should be taken seriously (maniacal laughter in the background from the expensive stadium seats). Football fans, relax. Reality will not come between you, your food trough, and the grunting season.

Posted by: squarf | March 4, 2011 1:53 PM

The fans had the voice when HOCKEY was all but done a few years ago. THE FANS literally called the shots after that. But what happened?? they eventually went back and now the NHL is business as usual. That was the perfect time to BOYCOTT SKY HIGH ticket prices, ridiculously priced vendor food etc... We had HOCKEY by the crotch when they finally reconveined, but as usual the fans went running back like there was nothing wrong. The NFL??? no sense in complaining, no matter what the outcome the fans will be lined up the second they decide to do whatever they're gonna do. They could make upper level seating $647.00 per game and parking $250.00 per car and the fans run right to em... As long as the consumer puts up with anything they throw at em, things like this will never stop.. If the fans decided that IF YOU LOCK OUT WE WONT BE BACK and stuck to that... 4 GAMES at a complete boycott would have them in total HEART ATTACK MODE and they'd think twice.. You'd see a lotta changes on the fans end for the better

Posted by: gcottrill | March 4, 2011 12:41 PM

It's time to go back to baseball. Go Nationals.

Posted by: groundhogdayguy | March 4, 2011 12:24 PM

Who cares about these negotiations. Whether there's a lock out, decertification or what not, they'll be playing in the fall.

You have to understand the NFL - it will do anything to keep it in the headlines. If the media would stop the discussions about the negotiation they will quickly come to the deal they've already decided upon.

Bottom line, there's too much money in it for everyone for the talks not to produce a settlement.

Posted by: llyonnoc | March 4, 2011 12:07 PM

I hope there is a work stoppage for years. I'm tired of the NFL and ESPN's arrogance and ubiquity and both need to be taken down a few notches.

If I had to take a side, I'm with the players. Paul Allen has FIVE FREAKIN' YACHTS, four of which are his "backups."

Owners are monumentally rich yet players get their heads bashed in every week for only a 3.3 year career under a non-guaranteed contract? Really?! Owners need more of the $9B so they can build stadiums like Jerryworld despite the fact that they blackmail the local cities, jurisdictions, and states they are in to get tax money to finance these palaces. Really?! BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!

Posted by: playahatah | March 4, 2011 11:48 AM

Lock them out...There are more important things in the world then worrying about Millionaires and billionaires bit^ching about who's hand is in the cookie jar....

Posted by: yeayea911 | March 4, 2011 10:52 AM

Tick tock you greedy bastages...

Posted by: ozpunk | March 4, 2011 10:48 AM

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