WASHINGTON - The NFL and the NFL Players Association are still on the brink, even after agreeing to a 24-hour extension of labor talks that postponed the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement. The new witching hour for the talks: midnight Friday.
After a 10th day of negotiations before federal mediator George Cohen Thursday, the two sides agreed to another day of talks that may produce only another extension.
There are still major differences on the three key issues holding up an agreement: how to share $9 billion in annual revenues; the establishment of a rookie wage scale and the expansion of the regular season from 16 to 18 games.
There appears to have been at least enough progress to hold talks for another day, but there's no guarantee the negotiations won't collapse. That could result in the doomsday scenario feared by both sides: decertification by the union, coupled with a lockout by the owners.
Decertification would open the way for individual players to challenge the NFL's antitrust exemption. Three high-profile quarterbacks - Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady - already have volunteered to serve as plaintiffs in potential litigation against the league.
"To all our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this,'' NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said after seven hours of negotiations. "We're going to keep working. We want to play football.''
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who left the talks shortly after 7 p.m., said: "We're working as hard as we can."
When the sides last negotiated an extension to the CBA in 2006, they stopped the clock twice before agreeing on a deal. The NFL opted out of that extension in 2008, setting the stage for this showdown. The league hasn't had a work stoppage since a players strike in 1987.
The attention surrounding the difficult negotiations even reached the White House, which is only a few blocks away from where the talks are being held. President Barack Obama weighed in when asked if he might 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."
Yesterday's meeting didn't include most of the owners who attended the previous day's talks. The entire 10-member Management Council Executive Committee was present at Wednesday's session before driving to a meeting that included all the owners at a hotel in northern Virginia. Owners were briefed about the negotiations, and most returned home Thursday night.
Giants president and co-owner John Mara is the only owner to have attended all three sessions this week. He was joined Thursday by Goodell, lead negotiator Jeff Pash, attorney Bob Batterman, Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and Packers president Mark Murphy.
Smith was joined on the union team by lead attorney Jeffrey Kessler, attorney Richard Berthelsen and several current and former players, including Brees, Colts center Jeff Saturday and former Jets offensive linemen Kevin Mawae and Pete Kendall. Mawae is president of the NFLPA.
The labor problems come at the height of the league's popularity. The NFL regularly broke television ratings last season, and Super Bowl XLV was the most-watched program in U.S. history.