WASHINGTON (CBS4) – NFL fans can breathe a slight sigh of relief Thursday evening. The league and the NFL Players Association agreed to federal mediation as a means to help settle the current labor dispute.

Right now, the NFL and the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement runs out on March 4. That means no league activity will happen after that date and owners would likely commence a lockout of the players.

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This would put the free agency period in turmoil as well as make it impossible for teams to trade anything but draft picks during the upcoming NFL Draft in April. It also ran the risk of canceling most mini-camps and running into training camp and the preseason.

The decision to bring in federal mediation will help to tone down the rhetoric in the room from some owners who are committed to not giving the union a deal nearly as good as the current one.

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Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services director George Cohen said the decision to help with the negotiations came after the FMCS spoke with both parties and that ongoing negotiations would be conducted in Washington, DC and begin on Friday.

The NFL issued a brief statement confirming the league was in mediation. The NFLPA said, “We hope that this renewed effort, through mediation, will help the players and owners reach a successful deal.”

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The FMCS said no further comment regarding the future schedule or the status of the negotiations would be made public by the agency. The FMCS said that mediation is not binding.