The NFL and the NFL Players Association have extended their negotiating window by 24 hours, a highly respected player rep has told NESN.com, breeding hope that the two sides have the good faith in place to iron out a new collective-bargaining agreement Friday.
Keep in mind, the two sides reached multiple short-term extensions before agreeing to a new CBA during their last labor discussions in 2006, so this 24-hour extension doesn't necessarily put some finality to Thursday's talks. The NFL and NFLPA could use the 24 hours to close in on the framework of a new CBA, or they could use it to iron out a longer extension, perhaps by two weeks.
There are two other very important notes to consider. First, the current CBA was expected to expire Thursday night at midnight, but the Players Association was set to decertify at 6 p.m. Since the two sides agreed to the 24-hour extension in the 5 o'clock hour, they were truly minutes away from the day's major deadline.
With that comes Friday's deadline. Again, the CBA will expire at midnight — Friday going into Saturday — but the players will decertify the union at 4 p.m., so they'll have a little less time to work with.
By decertifying, the players will have the ability to file antitrust lawsuits against the NFL, and that could block a lockout. However, the union must decertify while the CBA is still in place, which is why Thursday and Friday's deadlines were well before midnight. If the union decertifies after the expiration of the CBA, it could take about six months for the decertification process to play out, which would likely destroy any chance of playing a full regular season in 2011.
Thursday's extension is a good sign. It shows that both sides have made enough progress over the last few weeks to continue working together in the same room. It doesn't mean they'll reach a new CBA on Friday or even in the immediate days or weeks, but it's much better than the alternative.