- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

The NFL’s labor negotiations seemed hopeless when the owners unanimously voted to reject the union’s latest offer after just 57 minutes yesterday morning. However, at 5 p.m., just hours before teams had to announce massive cuts to get under the salary cap and free agency was to start, the league announced a three-day breather.

The delay until Sunday at 6 p.m. to get under the cap and 12:01 a.m. Monday to start free agency, with the consent of the players association, provides time for the resumption of negotiations with the union on an extension of the 12-year-old collective bargaining agreement.

“We jointly agreed to move the deadline because we owe it to the people we represent,” Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, told The Washington Times last night. “There are no promises from either side.”

The talks had broken off on Tuesday with the players demanding 60 percent of total revenues and the owners offering 56.2 percent. The difference amounts to about $325 million a year.

“I won’t come down,” Upshaw said after the owners’ unanimous vote. “Only the owners can make a proposal.”

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had been more glum than defiant at his press conference after the rejection was announced.

“The situation is as dire as dire can be,” Tagliabue said.

If the extension isn’t agreed to, such longtime stars as Tampa Bay’s Derrick Brooks and Miami’s Junior Seau could be cut Sunday in order for their teams to get under the $94.5 million cap, joining such Pro Bowl players Trevor Pryce of Denver and Sam Madison of Miami who were among those let go on Wednesday. Washington, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Oakland, Tennessee and the New York Jets also are still facing extremely tough decisions, especially if an extension isn’t agreed to and the cap isn’t increased.

Without an extension, if a player is cut, all of his remaining signing bonus would count that year, instead of just a prorated share as has been true since the cap came into existence in 1994. Contracts (excluding signing bonuses) could increase by no more than 30 percent a year, making signing free agents and draft choices difficult. Upshaw has said he’ll start the process of decertifying the NFLPA as a union at its annual meeting next week, setting the stage for a labor stoppage in 2008 when the CBA is due to expire.

If there was no agreement by next March, 2007 would be an uncapped year, making the NFL like free-spending Major League Baseball. However, players wouldn’t have to be cut for cap reasons and they couldn’t become unrestricted free agents until after six seasons, instead of the current four, severely restricting the market.

Complicating the situation further is the ongoing dispute among the owners over internal revenue sharing. In a league built on the pooling of television money, large-market franchises such as the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have been unwilling to share their vast ancillary revenues from such sources as luxury boxes, local marketing, stadium naming rights with such small-market franchises as the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. Upshaw believes that battle needs to be resolved before the NFLPA can cut a deal with the NFL. The owners, who didn’t even discuss revenue sharing during their brief meeting yesterday, disagree.

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