WASHINGTON -- At the request of NFL owners, the Players Association agreed Thursday evening to extend the collective bargaining deadline 24 hours to midnight Friday.
Although some view this 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 before federal mediator George Cohen. In fact, the union has no plans to meet with the owners tomorrow unless the league gives a good-faith indication to Cohen it's serious about getting a deal done.
The players have become increasingly wary of what they perceive to be stalling tactics by the owners, who've known for at least three years they had no intentions of extending the current collective bargaining agreement. Yet the players claim owners on the league's labor committee failed to attend a mediated negotiating session en masse until this week -- and then did so just once. Sources contend that if the owners present a strong case to Cohen on Friday morning, the union will agree to a second extension of, say, seven to 10 days. Absent that the players association plans to file decertification papers and have its players sue the league for antitrust violations if the owners lock them out, as expected.
Sources says the leading plaintiffs will be quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Colts, Tom Brady of the Patriots and Drew Brees of the Saints. The three have combined for five Super Bowl titles in seven appearances and are considered leading ambassadors for the league.
Both sides were under a gag order Thursday, but a source said the extension is "comprehensive" and keeps in place all of the provisions and terms of the current collective bargaining agreement from the 2010 league year. That means no free agency or trades until a new deal is done; and it also still gives the players the right to decertify Friday if they feel no progress is being made.
Under terms of the CBA, the union would have to notify the league by 4 p.m. Friday _ eight hours before the expiration of the agreement -- if it plans to decertify. In essence, that means that Friday will be Groundhog Day for the reporters and fans who waiting on some sort of movement in negotiations, good or bad.
At the Super Bowl in February, two owners told SI that if a deal weren't finalized before the deadline, nothing would happen until September at the earliest. That scenario seems plausible because there would be little "real" incentive for either side to do something before then. Basically, it would be a high-stakes game of chicken with each side waiting to see which blinks first.
The primary issues that need to be resolved are revenue distribution, a rookie wage scale and an 18-game season. The league generated $9.3 billion in revenues in 2010, of which slightly more than $1 billion went to league off the top as an expense credit to grow the game. The rest of the money was split among the players (57 percent) and owners (43 percent).
The league has been seeking an additional $1 billion in expense credits, while the players ostensibly have said: Open your books and show us why you need the money. The NFL had been unwilling to do that before Thursday, although it's still uncertain exactly how much they disclosed during the session.