Just as many expected would happen all along, labor negotiations between the NFL and the players’ union are heading right down to the wire — and possibly beyond.
In the first real indication of what’s been going on behind closed doors, the federal mediator overseeing talks said yesterday in Washington the sides made “some progress’’ during more than 40 hours spread over seven consecutive days of face-to-face meetings, but “very strong differences remain.’’
The league and union will resume mediation Tuesday, less than 72 hours before the old collective bargaining agreement is set to expire. If there’s no deal in place by the end of next Thursday, the union thinks owners will move to lock out players, threatening the 2011 season. The NFL has said, however, that the deadline could be extended.
George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, released a statement — his first public comments since he began working with commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, and their negotiating teams last week.
“At bottom, some progress was made,’’ Cohen said, “but very strong differences remain on the all-important core issues that separate the parties.’’
Also yesterday, there was a hearing before a US District Court judge in Minneapolis to discuss the NFLPA’s complaint that the league improperly negotiated TV deals. The union has accused the NFL of structuring contracts so owners would be guaranteed money from networks even if there were a lockout in 2011.
Standardized testing The NFL will recommend team doctors and trainers use a standardized sideline test to diagnose concussions next season. The announcement is scheduled for this morning at the Scouting Combine. Dr. Margot Putukian, chairwoman of the NFL’s subcommittee on return-to-play issues, told the Associated Press the new guidelines will instruct teams to ask the same questions on baseline tests. They also want doctors and trainers to use balance tests for the first time. But the new policy will not be mandated, Putukian said . . . The Raiders took big steps to shore up their defense, placing the franchise tag on linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, guaranteeing him a deal projected to be worth more than $10 million next season, and agreeing to deals with cornerback Stanford Routt (three years, $31.5 million) and defensive tackle John Henderson (two years, $8 million) . . . New Broncos coach John Fox said that Kyle Orton is his starting quarterback . . . Panthers center Ryan Kalil signed his one-year tender worth more than $10 million . . . The Jaguars re-signed their long snapper, UMass product Jeremy Cain.