The sides negotiating a new NFL collective-bargaining agreement are expected to use the weekend to assess their positions before resuming talks in front of a federal mediator Monday

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WASHINGTON — Those optimistic about the league’s labor talks with the players’ union will point to the sides’ decision to push back the bargaining deadline by a week and think, as commissioner Roger Goodell put it:

“The fact that we’re continuing this dialogue is a positive sign.”

And those who are pessimistic about where this all eventually is headed will recognize that, as league lead negotiator Jeff Pash described it:

“We’ve got very serious issues. We’ve got significant differences.”

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That last observation has been obvious all along.

From shortly before Thanksgiving until the day before the Super Bowl in February, the sides went more than two months without sitting down in large groups for face-to-face, formal bargaining on a new collective-bargaining agreement.

The sides are expected to use this weekend to assess their positions before resuming talks in front of a federal mediator Monday — and they will have until Friday night to reach a new CBA, thanks to two extensions of the old deal.

It originally was to have expired last Thursday. What will happen is still anyone’s guess. A deal could be reached at any time. Talks could break off. The sides could agree to yet another extension.

After having such a hard time arranging full-scale sessions, the league and NFL Players Association have spent time at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on 11 days.

According to mediator George Cohen, the tenor of the talks has changed.

The two parties reached a “level of dialogue” and “constructive discussion” where they “fully, frankly and candidly talk to each other,” Cohen said Friday.

Pash gave Cohen and colleagues at the FMCS, a U.S. government agency, credit.

“What the mediators bring to the process is a structure and a discipline that wasn’t always there,” Pash said. “They inject a seriousness of purpose to it. And they encourage you.”

There wasn’t someone to play that role before Feb. 18, when Cohen first presided over the negotiations, days after the NFL filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

The extension until Friday indicates neither side was quite ready to make the drastic move of shutting down a league that rakes in $9 billion a year and is more popular than ever. The past two Super Bowls rank No. 1 and No. 2 among most-watched TV programs in U.S. history.

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