- Associated Press - Friday, March 4, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - Use a 24-hour extension to get a longer reprieve.

That appeared to be the approach for the NFL and the players’ union Friday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and several league executives arrived at the offices of federal mediator George Cohen in the morning, with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire at midnight. Both groups agreed to a 24-hour extension on Thursday, with another extension on the agenda.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters showed up about two hours later. Each side had been expected to meet separately with Cohen before any negotiations would be held.

“If we can make the kind of progress that you needed to make to have a further extension, that’s where we’d be looking,” NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said before heading in to meet with Cohen. “Hopefully, we can make some progress and keep this thing going. That’s obviously in everybody’s interest. It’s been our goal all along and we’re going to just keep at it.”

Goodell said, “We’re going back to work hard again,” but gave no indication what he expects to happen.

If the CBA expires the owners could lock out the players, and the union could decertify to try and prevent that through the courts _ something the NFLPA did in 1989.

“For all our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this,” union executive director DeMaurice Smith said as he emerged from talks Thursday that resulted in the one-day extension. “We are going to keep working. We want to play football.”

Clearly, nobody should get comfortable.

Allowing the CBA to expire could put the two sides on the road to a year without football, even though opening kickoff of the 2011 season is still six months away. The labor unrest comes as the NFL is at the height of its popularity, breaking records for TV ratings: This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. history. The previous No. 1 was the 2010 Super Bowl.

A person with knowledge of the talks said the 24-hour extension was to gauge the willingness to extend negotiations further. The person, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to remain confidential, said the sides were apart on economics, but have agreed on other topics. The person would not say what the two sides do agree on.

Another person familiar with the negotiations said the two sides were not expected to resume face-to-face bargaining Friday. Instead they’ll meet separately with Cohen to hash out whether to prolong the extension _ and if so, for how many days.

Asked how much progress was made Thursday, Pash said: “You can’t measure it like that. … It’s not like a stock that you could chart on an hour-by-hour basis. There are a lot of issues, it’s complicated. People are working hard, and I think we’re just going to have to keep at it.”

They were at it for about eight hours Thursday with Cohen. The CBA was set to expire at midnight as Thursday became Friday, which would likely have prompted the first work stoppage since 1987 for a league that rakes in $9 billion a year.

Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday cautioned that the two sides are “still apart” on a pact to replace the current CBA. “I don’t see how we can be that close right now unless somebody is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat,” he said. “I just don’t see it.”

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