FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Negotiations toward an extension of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players will begin on June 1, NFL executive vice president of labor/legal counsel Jeff Pash said here Tuesday.
How long the critical negotiations last, however, might depend on the NFL's desire to share its ledger books with the players, something it has so far has been reluctant to do.
DeMaurice Smith, the new executive director of the NFLPA, reiterated Tuesday that there will be no deal until the players are able to examine the league's books.
"We can certainly talk," said Smith, who made a brief presentation to NFL owners during a morning session here at the league's two-day spring meetings. "But there will be no negotiation until we see [the books]."
In his previous comments, Smith had described the upcoming negotiations as a "war." Lately, however, he had softened his tone, and allowed he was optimistic about hammering out an extension. But on Tuesday, Smith was adamant about seeing the league's ledgers before any substantive bargaining begins.
The NFL has contended that it is unnecessary for the union to first see the books, since the players already have an accurate accounting of league finances.
"They know our revenues to the penny," said commissioner Roger Goodell during his session with the media.
So the two sides, at least for now, appear at a stalemate.
The labor talks are critical because NFL owners voted unanimously last fall to opt out of the current labor agreement, with Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver calling the accord "unsustainable," and others agreeing that it favored the players too much. Because the owners have opted out of the agreement, 2009 is scheduled to be the final season with a salary cap. The 2010 campaign would be an "uncapped" year, and there are concerns about a possible lockout by owners in 2011.
Pash reiterated the league's desire to make its product better, and said that he assumes some players will participate in negotiations once they begin.
With Smith elected this spring to succeed the late Gene Upshaw, there will be some new faces at the bargaining table. However, the union has several officers who gained experience in past negotiations. Pash said the league's negotiating team probably will be made up largely of personnel from the Management Council Executive Committee, but acknowledged that some owners will almost certainly play a role in the talks.
The negotiations probably will include talks about expanding the season. While such expansion was discussed by owners, there was no vote taken, and Goodell said there won't be until the NFL analyzes every aspect of a 17- or 18-game season. The league cannot unilaterally expand the regular season.
Sources said the NFL has already discussed the possibility of a longer season with its television network partners. Clearly, more games will mean more money for the NFL and its owners, and Smith and the NFLPA want a piece of that pie.
"Clearly, they see value in additional regular-season games," Smith said. "We'll begin discussions and negotiations with our players to talk about what we've found in our analysis. It's important when you're dealing with the core of your product, your game, that you be very careful. We want to make sure we haven't missed anything."
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.