The NFL and the players' union agreed Friday to extend talks on a new contract for a week, giving them more time to stave off a work stoppage in America's most popular sport.
Federal mediator George Cohen announced the extension, which came after a 24-hour extension kept negotiations going beyond the originally scheduled expiration of the current collective-bargaining agreement at midnight on Thursday night.
"We are continuing to work hard, to identify solutions," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We believe that, as I've said many times before, that this will be solved through negotiations and that's what we're focused on.
"We'll continue to work hard, and we'll be back next week," added Goodell, as the two sides planned to resume talking on Monday.
"We look forward to a deal coming out of that," he said.
NFL bosses and NFLPA executives had returned Friday morning to Cohen's office with hopes that enough progress could be made to warrant a further extension.
If the sides can't reach an agreement on a new deal, the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement now set for next Friday, March 11, could trigger a lock out of the players by the owners.
The union could also decertify, a move that would mean it no longer represents the players and which could trigger a court battle involving US anti-trust law.
"Talking is better than litigating," Goodell said.
Economic issues are the crux of the talks, with NFL owners and players at odds over how to divide $9 billion in annual revenue.
In the past, owners have taken $1 billion off the top, a figure they want to double in a new agreement.
US President and avowed football fan Barack Obama spoke for many of the game's myriad supporters on Thursday when he said a sport so popular and profitable shouldn't grind to a halt over economic issues.
Even though the start of the 2011 season is months away, a first work stoppage in the league since 1987 would threaten games next season.
"For an industry that is making $9 billion in revenue, they should be able to figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way," Obama said.
Other issues under discussion include a rookie wage scale, retired player benefits and the owners' desire to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.
The last move would see two pre-season games eliminated and boost revenue, but players worry about the increased threat of injury.
"We've got very serious issues," the league's lead negotiator, Jeff Pash said. "We've got significant differences.
"It's time for us really to dig, to dig deep, and try to find solutions," Pash added, "and try to be creative and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody."
Source: AFP Global Edition