NEW YORK -- NFL owners voted unanimously Thursday to break off talks with the players' union on a contract extension, leaving the current salary cap in place with the start of free agency looming and possibly forcing the mass dumping of veterans.
The owners, who met for 57 minutes Thursday morning, endorsed a recommendation by their management council executive committee to reject the union's latest proposal.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the financial demands made by the players were unacceptable.
"We are indeed deadlocked," Tagliabue said.
The breakdown of talks left intact, for now, a salary cap of $94.5 million. The two sides had hoped to add $10 million to $15 million to the 2006 salary cap. Without the additional room, some teams could be forced into wholesale cuts to get beneath the cap by midnight. Free agency starts Friday.
"Without an agreement with the union on an extension, the league year will begin as scheduled at midnight Thursday under the current terms of the CBA," the league said Wednesday in a statement.
Owners did not seem inclined to cut into the difference of 4 percentage points between the sides. New England owner Robert Kraft had suggested that the meeting Thursday morning might be short, just enough time to rubber stamp the executive committee's decision.
One reason was that revenue sharing, a point of contention among the owners, was not on the agenda, at least not at the start. The union insists that is needed for agreement and some owners agree.
Asked if there could be a deal without it, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson simply said no.
Three days of talks between the league and the NFL Players Association to extend the agreement that runs out in 2008 ended Tuesday with the sides far apart on the percentage of league revenues earmarked for players.
Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, said the league is offering 56.2 percent of its total revenue for the players, almost four points lower than the union's idea.
"Our number has to start with a six," Upshaw said.
But beyond the numbers is an issue that has divided the owners for two years: revenue sharing among the teams.
Under the current system, some teams make far more than others in ancillary income, ranging from local radio rights to stadium naming rights and advertising. The lower-revenue teams say that forces them to commit as much as 70 percent of that money to the players while teams with more outside money contribute far less, giving the high-revenue teams more available cash for upfront bonuses to free agents.
Under the current agreement, 2006 is scheduled to be the last year with a salary cap. An uncapped year in 2007 means new rules that will force teams and agents to change their plans this year and could keep a lot of teams out of the free-agent market entirely.
"It might mean that no rookies get signed because no one is sure of the long-term ramifications," said Tom Condon, the agent for a number of the game's top players.
Even more urgent are salary-cap ramifications for many teams, which anticipated a labor agreement and planned for a much bigger ceiling. Washington, for example, could be as much as $25 million over the salary cap after signings over the past few years that anticipated a salary cap figure well over $100 million.
The ramifications of a lower than anticipated cap were evident Wednesday, when some high-priced veterans were cut. Among them were defensive end Trevor Pryce and running back Mike Anderson of Denver, the team's leading rusher last season. Denver also cut tight end Jeb Putzier.
Buffalo, meanwhile, released defensive tackle Sam Adams, and Carolina released three veterans: running back Stephen Davis, defensive tackle Brentson Buckner and kicker returner Rod Smart, "He Hate Me" of old XFL days.
Miami cut left tackle Damion McIntosh, saving $3.8 million against the cap, and former Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison. The Dolphins are a prime example of a team that needs a new labor agreement: They are estimated to be about $9 million over a $95 million cap.