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SBD/March 4, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies
NFL Labor Watch: NFL, NFLPA Agree To Extend CBA Through March 11
Published March 4, 2011
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The NFL and NFLPA Friday agreed to extend talks about a new CBA until the end of the day on March 11. The two sides will break for the weekend before returning to mediation on Monday morning. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took a couple questions after exiting the mediator’s office, saying “We are continuing to work hard, trying to identify the solutions. … I think the fact we are continuing the dialogue is a positive sign” (NFL Network, 3/4). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash: “We’re going to continue to work. We’re at a stage where the issues have been joined, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion. 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, everybody can gain a lot” (“Outside the Lines,” ESPN, 3/4). Federal mediator George Cohen briefly addressed the media Friday afternoon, noting the gag order he issued was the “best way to encourage parties to fully, frankly and candidly talk to each other.” Cohen: “I’m pleased to say that over the course of … 11 days we have at least achieved that level of dialogue and that level of constructive discussion.” Cohen did not take any questions from the assembled reporters (NFL Network, 3/4).
GOING INTO OVERTIME: Talks between the NFL and NFLPA went into overtime Thursday when the sides agreed to a 24-hour extension of the expiration of the CBA. With lawsuits ready to be filed, the two sides are back at it Friday before federal mediator George Cohen. The extension also applies to the White antitrust settlement that governs the CBA and was also set to expire. With little chance to get a deal done Friday, the one-day extension is expected to lay the groundwork for a longer extension of days if not weeks. If that does not occur, however, then the scenario of a union decertification and player lockout could commence. The union had begun to prepare for a 5:00pm ET press conference Thursday to presumably announce it was decertifying, but that was put off. The mediation, which started shortly after 9:00am and was to end at 1:00pm, stretched to almost 6:00pm (Kaplan). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator, said, "We're going to keep at it and keep at it as long as it takes. ... We're continuing to talk. I don't see how that can be negative." USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes with both sides "still at odds over how to share about $9.3 billion in annual revenue, the extra day is expected to be devoted to consideration of whether a longer extension is even warranted." Pash said, "We'll see. We're taking it one step at a time" (USA TODAY, 3/4). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who left Thursday's talks shortly after 7:00pm, said, "We're working as hard as we can" (NEWSDAY, 3/4).
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: The WASHINGTON POST's Maske Friday morning cited sources as saying that "there was some movement in the bargaining late Wednesday night and Thursday." The sources indicated that it "was not enough to raise hopes of a settlement Friday," but it "was sufficient to prompt the parties to consider extending the talks another seven days." The possibility of an extension "apparently was discussed Wednesday night when Cohen met with a contingent of NFL negotiators" that included Goodell, Pash, NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman, Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy and Giants President & CEO John Mara. NFLPA negotiators "rejoined the talks Thursday morning and discussions of a postponement intensified." Maske notes "hopes around the sport for a settlement likely would increase greatly if a one-week postponement is approved Friday," because that would "signal that the two sides believe a new agreement could be within reach" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/4). In N.Y., Judy Battista reports the sides were "still far apart Thursday night on the major issues that divided them -- most importantly the division of $9 billion in annual revenue." The owners reportedly made the "push for the extension." Thursday's meeting "lasted more than seven hours as the sides haggled over an extension, with the players apparently wanting an assurance that the owners were not merely stalling in an attempt to keep them from decertifying before the deadline." There will not be "face-to-face talks on Friday, but each side will hold separate sessions with the mediator to try to agree on a longer extension." Indications Thursday night were that there is "still much work to be done before even a weeklong extension of the deal could be guaranteed." The 24-hour extension "seemed to generate little good will, and a settlement still seems unlikely without at least one longer extension." But neither side "would have agreed to stop the clock to keep talking if there was not reason to believe something more could be accomplished by talking" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/4).
REASON FOR OPTIMISM? In Boston, Ron Borges notes the NFLPA's decision to "stay at the bargaining table could be a signal that the two sides have finally begun to move off their original hard-line positions on the $1 billion in additional revenue the owners were seeking and the expansion of the schedule to 18 games." Or it "could simply be a stalling tactic on the owners’ side or a ploy by the players to strengthen their argument that they bargained in good faith before decertifying their union" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/4). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cites sources on both sides as saying that the extension was "just to buy time to negotiate a three- or seven-day extension to the mediated negotiations that wrapped up their 10th day" on Thursday. But the extension is "considered a victory of sorts by the players because it allowed them to put off decertification and indicated a softening in the owners’ previously hard-line negotiating stance" (N.Y. POST, 3/4). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes there is "no chance the extra time will lead" to a new CBA Friday, but the "idea is to find a reason to stop the clock for another week" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/4). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora: "You talk to people who have been in these rooms here in the last few days, they're not on the precipice of a deal. Striking a new CBA in the next 24 hours is not very likely. ... The goal really is to get a seven-day period or so to be able to have time to really work on the CBA issues that are still out there to get nailed down" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/3).
Thursday's negotiating session
DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP: SI.com's Jim Trotter wrote while some view the 24-hour extension as a "potential ray of hope in the mostly dreary negotiations, the reality is that the sides are no closer to an agreement now than when they met Thursday morning for their 10th bargaining session" (SI.com, 3/3). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton writes, "The extension Thursday may have sent positive signals to some. But the lockout still appears to be inevitable" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/4). In Boston, Greg Bedard notes it is "debatable as to whether progress has been made and whether either side blinked in the face of a public outcry if they were to extinguish the most popular sport in the country" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/4). CNBC's Darren Rovell: "Maybe we don't read today as progress. Maybe it's just delaying some of the chess moves" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 3/3). But in St. Petersburg, John Romano writes, "NFL owners have got to have enough common sense to realize a protracted labor war is not worth the risk. Presumably, that's what Thursday's 24-hour extension of an expiring collective bargaining agreement demonstrated. The owners reached the end of the cliff and realized how frightening the abyss looked" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/4). In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes, "It's about time the NFL owners started to act as if they actually want a deal, not just a flattening" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/4).
NO ONE WANTS TO BE THE BAD GUY: ESPN’s Andrew Brandt said if the owners turn down a longer extension to reach a deal, they “can always be perceived as the bad guy, that the union wanted to extend it and if we don't have football, it's the owners, it's their fault.” Brandt: “On Thursday, it was the union that if they turned down the one-day extension, they'd be the bad guys the next six months. This time, it's ownership. If they turn down the offer to extend another few days, they'd be the bad guys. I'd be very surprised if we don't have another extension coming out of Friday" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/4). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes under the header, "NFL Owners Get Cold Feet?" Hofmann: "The owners are afraid to push the button. I think it's because they finally thought through their lockout strategy and determined that it very well could be a loser" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote "both sides blinked" on Thursday, agreeing to the 24-hour extension. The NFLPA "entered Thursday's talks so intent on moving toward decertification that there was talk all day long about a 5 p.m. news conference to announce the move." Simultaneously, the NFL was "ready to pursue a court action if the players made the first move and decertified, thus preventing the league from locking out independent contractors." But in the end, the two sides "found something to agree on" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/3).