- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 23, 2005

The NBA and the NHL recently completed collective bargaining agreements, providing some hope that sports fans might enjoy a lengthy respite from stories about labor negotiations.

Forget it. The NFL’s dreaded uncapped year will start in just 20 months.

So far, commissioner Paul Tagliabue and players association executive director Gene Upshaw have made little progress on reaching a new CBA. A battle continues between richer teams and their less wealthy brethren over the sharing of locally earned revenues.

However, Leigh Steinberg, the highest-profile NFL player agent, isn’t worried about a strike or lockout. The current CBA expires after the 2008 draft.

“The CBA has plenty of problems, but the new television contracts [beginning in 2006] are going to bring in an incredible cornucopia of riches,” Steinberg said. “There are no guaranteed contracts in the NFL, and the players have shorter careers than in other sports. The owners have all the leverage. But players are making much more money than they did before the salary cap went into effect [in 1994]. And the new TV contracts will send salaries soaring.”

And a winning, well-run small-market franchise also can thrive. Witness Green Bay, which earned $200million last year, $17.2million just from its pro shop. The community-owned franchise also has $97.7million saved in a Packer Preservation Fund.

Jenkins back full force — Former Maryland defensive tackle Kris Jenkins was an All-Pro when Carolina reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago. With Jenkins out most of last year with a bad shoulder, the Panthers dropped to 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

Jenkins is back now and not shy about expressing himself. He said he started drinking too much when he was hurt, especially after Carolina lost to Oakland and a loudmouth defensive tackle he despises, Warren Sapp. After the 2003 season, Sapp, then with Tampa Bay, ripped Carolina’s Brentson Buckner for daring to say the Panthers had a better front four than the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.

“I hate Sapp,” Jenkins said. “He talks too much. He doesn’t make any sense. He’s fat. He’s sloppy. He acts like he’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s ugly. He stinks. His mouth stinks. His breath stinks, and basically his soul stinks, too.

“When we played Oakland and we lost to Sapp, I stopped going to the games,” Jenkins continued. “After that … I’ve never been an alcoholic, but I upped my consistency of [drinking]. I just did a lot more sitting around the house. I’d come in for treatment, and that’s it. I wouldn’t do anything. If I had my son, I’d take care of my son. But if I didn’t have my son, I wouldn’t do anything.

“Then I got tired of the drinking because that wasn’t helping. After I didn’t have anything to kind of take my focus off it, I had to deal with myself, and I had to understand some things and face my demons. It helped me out.”

The return of a healthy Jenkins will go a long way toward putting the Panthers back in the postseason. Too bad they won’t face Sapp and the Raiders unless both teams make the Super Bowl.

Freddie football — Freddie Mitchell talked a much better game than he played during his four seasons in Philadelphia, but so far the receiver has been on his best behavior in Kansas City.

Mitchell, who didn’t see why anyone expected a dropoff when he replaced injured standout Terrell Owens last year, wasn’t even upset about being the Chiefs’ second choice behind Az-Zahir Hakim, who played for Dick Vermeil with St. Louis but spurned his old coach at the last minute to sign with New Orleans.

“I would have chosen Az, too,” Mitchell said. “He knows the offense.”

Everyone knows Mitchell’s loudmouth reputation, but Chiefs offensive tackle John Welbourn, a teammate in Philadelphia, said the receiver also is tough.

“Freddie definitely likes to hear himself talk,” Welbourn said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. We’re entertainers, and he’s entertaining. I always got amusement out of it. [But] Freddie has no qualms about hitting people and playing hard. That’s why guys like playing with him. That’s why I liked playing with him.”

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