- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

Reggie Fowler’s bid to buy the Minnesota Vikings and be the NFL’s first black majority owner prompted this thought: How many teams haven’t had a black fill any of their most critical jobs?

Baltimore (Ozzie Newsome) and Jacksonville (James Harris) have blacks running their front offices, but two of 32 is a very small ratio in a sport that has long been a majority minority on the field. However, the NFL won’t expand its use of the “Rooney Rule” to cover front offices anytime soon unless pressured to do so.

“We don’t have … [a] mandatory interview requirement because we haven’t satisfied ourselves that we’ve done enough … to really have a deep pool of talent in our league,” commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in his annual State of the NFL press conference at the Super Bowl. “For us to sit in New York and say we’ll fine you if you don’t do X or Y would not be a constructive step at this point.”

However, the “Rooney Rule” has made inroads on the sidelines. Romeo Crennel’s hiring last week by Cleveland raised the number of black head coaches to a record six, up from two in 2000.

All told, 11 teams have had black coaches in their history. Fourteen other teams have had black offensive or defensive cordinators. That leaves five franchises that have remained all-white at the top: Houston, which started play in 2002; Carolina (1995); New Orleans (1967); San Diego (1960); and Tennessee (1960).

Fowler also will try to deliver the first championship in the Vikings’ 45 seasons. And while the Arizonan has promised to keep the team in Minnesota, rumors of a move to Los Angeles will persist until the Vikings complete a stadium deal with a state legislature that current owner Red McCombs has found recalcitrant or another team fills the void in L.A., which has been without a team for 11 years.

Bargaining begins ” While NFL Players Association boss Gene Upshaw is optimistic the collective bargaining agreement can be renewed before its 2008 expiration, commissioner Paul Tagliabue is less upbeat.

“We have a long way to go in getting a consensus that’s going to get 24 votes [needed from the 32 owners],” Tagliabue said.

The chief sticking point is local deals for such big-ticket items as stadium naming rights and suites and club seats sales, which are not considered in the players’ 64.75 percent chunk of NFL revenue. If those items ” which weren’t that consequential when the CBA went into effect in 1993 but are now believed to be 10 percent of the pot ” are included as the union wants, the salary cap would jump at least $10million a team. That would push low-revenue franchises to look for major relief from their richer brethren, much like in baseball.

The NFL is willing to listen to these concepts if the union will simultaneously address the debt teams incurred while building pricey stadiums. A league meeting to discuss this issue, as well as negotiations on the night game television packages, is tentatively scheduled March2, the day free agency begins and the last day such changes could go into effect for the next fiscal year.

Another one bites the dust ” Buffalo’s announcement that it will cut Drew Bledsoe showed again how insecure the life of an NFL starting quarterback has become. Bledsoe and the Bills won nine of their last 12 games and had a better record than two playoff teams, but he’s about to be out of a job. Only nine of the projected 32 starters for next season were even with their teams at this point in 2002.

Bledsoe, 33, rejected Buffalo’s offer to mentor new starter J.P. Losman, the Bills’ first-round selection in last year’s draft. Bledsoe, who lost his job in New England to his own injury and stellar play by one-time backup Tom Brady, could wind up in Dallas or Cleveland. Both teams need starters and have coaches who worked with him in New England.

Pioli stays put ” New England personnel director Scott Pioli, the NFL’s top executive in 2003, reportedly turned down a 400 percent pay raise and the presidency of the Seattle Seahawks to remain with the Patriots.

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