WASHINGTON -- The decision to extend the deadline for ending the current collective bargaining agreement means two things for the NFL and its players union: First, they can continue to talk, negotiate, haggle, whatever another 24 hours, and, second, that both sides blinked.
I mean it. The NFL Players Association 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. But the union didn't. Instead, it agreed to meet another day.
The NFL entered Thursday's talks with a lockout as an option if and when it failed to reach an agreement by midnight. Not only that, it 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 the league didn't. Instead, it agreed to meet another day, too.
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Hey, what do you know? The NFL and NFLPA found something to agree on, and that's a start to ... well, something. The question is: What?
Extending a deadline can be a good thing, and look no farther than the last time the NFL held collective-bargaining talks. An extension produced a new agreement in days. It could produce one here, too, but not in 24 hours. My guess is that by extending the deadline, both sides want time to produce another, longer, extension so they can work on closing enormous gaps on core economic issues.
That couldn't happen in one day, so they pushed the deadline back -- and, in all likelihood, will push it back again.
Remember, it was a three-day extension that produced the last CBA, and the two sides weren't as polarized as they are now. The presumption is that talks could take weeks, maybe longer, to get straightened out, with the next month crucial. If nothing is resolved before the April 28 draft some persons figure that negotiations go deep into the summer and that games -- both preseason and regular season -- could be lost.
"For our fans who dig our game," said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, "we appreciate your patience as we work through this. We're going to keep working. We want to play football."
Of course, they want to play. That's what they do. And owners want to see them play. Because that's their business, and it's a business that rakes in $9.3 billion. But neither side can agree on how they get there, with each reluctant or unwilling to talk about it -- with Smith's 10-second address to the media in front of the Mediation and Conciliation Services building here the only public comment by NFLPA members.
"We are working as hard as we can," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said before talks began.
No one questions that, either. What they do question is this: When will a deal be struck, if one can even be struck and, if not, what happens next?
"I don't see how we can be that close right now," Washington player representative Vonnie Holliday told the Associated Press, "unless somebody is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I just don't see."
Neither do I, which is why I think Thursday's move is to buy time to, well, buy more time. All I know is that the NFL and NFL Players Association went into Thursday's meeting with tough options at their disposal, and neither exercised them. That doesn't mean they can't or won't. It just means that what we were looking at Thursday is what we're looking at Friday -- a midnight deadline that could push both parties into courtrooms rather than mediation.
That is an option neither prefers but one each wouldn't hesitate to pursue -- if it felt it was necessary. Apparently, they don't, and that's a good sign ... for now. But stay tuned. All I know is that what wasn't resolved Thursday still isn't resolved, and that Friday's plans don't include face-to-face talks, but talks with the mediator.
OK, so that's not so promising. But maybe, just maybe, the two sides budged, and after all we've heard up to now that's not a bad thing.