WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The NFL and the players' union agreed to extend talks on a new collective agreement for another week, raising hopes a fresh deal could be struck and a lockout avoided.
The parties had already agreed to a 24-hour extension before the original deadline of 11.59 pm Thursday (0459 GMT) but added another seven days after speaking with the federal mediator George Cohen Friday.
"At the request of the FMCS (mediator) the parties have agreed to a seven day extension ending the evening of Friday, March 11," said Cohen.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who along with the union has agreed not to discuss details of the talks, told reporters the latest step was good news.
"I think the fact that we are continuing this dialogue is a positive sign," he told reporters.
"This is going to get resolved through negotiations not litigation and so talking is better than litigating."
The league's lead negotiator Jeff Pash said: "It is time for us to dig deep and try to find solutions and try to be creative and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody."
The upbeat assessment was maintained by DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, who said he hoped for a deal and noted that time had been required to get the talks back on track.
"There is a commitment from both sides to engage in another round of negotiations and we look forward to a deal coming out of it.
"When you talk about trust, or confidence, none of those things are repaired quickly," he said.
Goodell and the NFL had feared the union would 'decertify' itself, freeing it from labor laws and allowing it to take on the league in court while the union was worried NFL owners would declare a lockout and effectively freeze out the players.
Andrew Zimbalist, professor of Economics at Smith College and author of a number of sports business books, said the latest development was a real sign of progress.
"It is certainly encouraging. The months of bluster and rhetoric have given way to a quiet mediation; that's the atmosphere in which deals get done," he told Reuters.
"There are reasonable compromises out there that can and will be made. In any event, it is certainly a lot better than a string of litigations and counter-litigations."
The chief sticking point in the talks is how to distribute the league's $9 billion in annual revenues.
Currently, the league gives the players about 60 percent of the revenue after it takes about $1.3 billion off the top for costs.
Goodell joined NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith for the 11th day of negotiations with mediator George Cohen at the office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Goodell, who claims costs have risen dramatically since the previous deal was struck in 2006, would like to increase the league's take to $2.3 billion, shrinking the amount available to the players.
The league would also like to extend the regular season by two games, impose a rookie wage scale, and test players for the use of human growth hormone.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Additional reporting by Larry Fine and Gene Cherry. Editing by Julian Linden)