WASHINGTON — Those optimistic about the NFL's labor talks will point to the sides' decision to push back the bargaining deadline by a week and think, as commissioner Roger Goodell put it, "The fact that we're continuing this dialogue is a positive sign."
And those who are pessimistic will think, as league lead negotiator Jeff Pash put it, "We've got very serious issues. We've got significant differences."
Pash's observation has been obvious all along. From shortly before Thanksgiving until the day before the Super Bowl, the sides went more than two months without formal bargaining on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The sides are using this weekend to assess their positions before resuming talks in front of a federal mediator Monday. Then they will have until the end of Friday to reach a new CBA thanks to two extensions of the previous deal. It was to have expired Thursday.
What will happen is still anyone's guess. A deal could be reached at any time. Talks could break off. The sides could agree to another extension.
After having such a hard time arranging full-scale sessions, the league and players have spent time at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on 11 of 15 days. According to mediator George Cohen, the tenor of the talks has changed.
The parties reached a "level of dialogue" and "constructive discussion" where they "fully, frankly and candidly talk to each other," Cohen said Friday.
Pash gave Cohen and his colleagues at the FMCS, a U.S. government agency, credit for that.
"What the mediators bring to the process is a structure and a discipline that wasn't always there," Pash said. "They inject a seriousness of purpose to it. And they encourage you. They keep you going."
So can a deal get done by Friday?
"The reality is what is going to move the needle is the fact we are into March, when season tickets and sponsorships have to be set and people need to make decisions to set the gross revenues," player agent Peter Schaffer said. "There's urgency there."