Only instead of Jack Bauer, it’s NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players executive director DeMaurice Smith who control whether the league is headed toward a labor disaster.
The league and players union staved off a work stoppage late Thursday afternoon by agreeing to a 24-hour deadline extension in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.
The odds of finalizing a labor pact in that time span are considered astronomical because of the gulf that remains between the two sides. In a best-case scenario, the NFL and NFLPA will agree to another extension Friday that would continue labor talks under the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington D.C.
If such an arrangement can’t be reached, the current CBA will expire at midnight Saturday and the first NFL work stoppage since 1987 will begin.
That was the doomsday scenario Thursday with the CBA set to expire at midnight (ET) Friday. But deep into an eight-hour bargaining session, both sides agreed to give an already lengthy negotiating process more time.
Even though numerous news leaks sprang from the bargaining table throughout Thursday, the federal mediator has prohibited the NFL and NFLPA from officially commenting on what is now 11 days of closed-door negotiations. Smith did issue a brief comment to a throng of media assembled when leaving the building.
"To all our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this," he said. "We’re going to keep working. We want to play football."
Goodell has echoed similar sentiment in the past. But the two parties must come to agreement on a host of critical CBA issues. Most notably:
X: A revamped split of revenues. NFL owners want a greater percentage.
X: An 18-game regular-season schedule. The NFL wants it; the NFLPA is publicly against it.
X: A rookie salary cap. The NFLPA isn’t opposed to the idea, but there is disagreement as to how much money would be redistributed to veteran players and the method of doing so.
NFL executives are believed to have stayed behind Thursday night to meet with federal mediator George H. Cohen after the NFLPA’s contingent had left. The NFL’s negotiating team also had a private session with Cohen on Wednesday night after meeting with union leaders and team owners earlier in the day.
The deadline extension is similar to what transpired in 2006 when the previous CBA was set to expire. The NFL and NFLPA ultimately reached a six-year deal without a work stoppage. But in 2008, team owners unanimously voted to opt out of the CBA two years early because of the belief it was economically disadvantageous.
The NFLPA is expected to file for decertification as a union Friday barring a labor agreement or extension of CBA talks. Such a maneuver would prevent the NFL from invoking a lockout and allow individual players to sue the league for antitrust violations under the auspices of David Doty, a U.S. district court judge with a long history of favorable NFLPA rulings. Sports Illustrated’s website reported Thursday that three star quarterbacks — Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — would be among those who would participate in such a filing.
The NFL already has taken steps to counter a potential decertification by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The league claims decertification would be a sham because the NFLPA would reform after the labor strife is decided. The NFLPA effectively used such a maneuver in 1987 to sue the NFL, spurring the legal decisions that helped lead to the CBA’s creation in 1993.
The current CBA rules will remain in place until midnight Saturday as well. That will give teams additional time to release or sign players before a potential lockout/work stoppage.
Although some NFL and sports business analysts were predicting a collapse to talks early Thursday, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was proven right with his Wednesday statement that "it’s hard to predict with any certainty how these things roll."
"It’s a chessboard that moves around and things change," Irsay said after attending the NFL owners meeting in Chantilly, Va. "Things happen at unusual hours."
In this case, there are 24 hours to keep negotiations alive.