The Washington Times - January 29, 2009, 06:51PM

Acting executive director Richard Berthelsen and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae met with the media today to discuss the search for the late Gene Upshaw’s successor, the state of the collective bargaining agreement talks with the owners and their relations with the disgruntled retired players.

Since it had already been reported that the field to replace Upshaw had been winnowed from 25 to five — including favorites Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent, both former union presidents — the big news was that the 2009 salary cap will be $123 million.

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Berthelsen also unveiled data that estimated that the average annual return on an investment in an NFL franchise is $107.3 million, belying the owners’ claim of dire economics in the NFL and their decision last May to opt out of the CBA meaning that 2009 will be the last year under the salary cap.

The owners are threatening to lock out the players rather than endure an uncapped year in 2010, but Upshaw long vowed that if an uncapped year ever occurred, the NFLPA would never again agree to a cap. Berthelsen came close to echoing that today while leaving a tiny bit of wiggle room.

“We’ve got a pretty good thing going and we would like that to continue,” said Berthelsen, while acknowledging the national economic downturn which has led to layoffs around the league. “The players want to keep playing in 2009, 2010 and beyind and we think that’s what the fans want as well. That may not be shared on the other side of the bargaining table. Football has been a very good business for the players, the onwers and the league. The revenue pie has continued to grow. And the players see no reason why their slice of that pie should be any smaller in the future. There sure seems to be no reason for a lockout.”

Berthelsen said that a lockout was justified in the NHL in 2005-05 since the majority of its franchises were losing millions. In contrast, the NFLPA claims that the value of an an average NFL franchise zoomed from $288 million in 1998 to $1.04 billion in 2008, nearly a 14 percent annual return with a $82.6 increase last year. The average annual profit per club over the past decade was $24.7 million.

Finally, Berthelsen said the players’ current 59.6 percentage of gross revenues is in line with the average during the 15 seasons of the cap, undercutting the owners’ argument that they can’t afford the CBA extension agreed to in 2006.

- David Elfin