By Jim Thomas

Here we go again. The past two days have failed to bring the NFL any closer to an extension of its current labor agreement.

So barring a breakthrough Sunday - or another delay in the start of the league year - the free agency period and trading will begin Monday without an extension and under a restrictive set of rules.

Negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association broke off Saturday with the parties seemingly no closer to an agreement than they were Thursday, when the league took the unprecedented step of pushing back the start of the league year three days - from Friday until Monday.
"There's been very little progress," Rams team president John Shaw said Saturday.

Shaw was not part of Saturday's negotiating session, but as a member of the NFL's powerful Management Council executive committee, he has been privy to most of the negotiations. He participated in a conference call later Saturday with other members of the committee, apparently updating them on the negotiations.

League rule prevents Shaw from commenting specifically on the negotiations. Shaw did say Saturday that the executive committee had another conference call scheduled for Sunday, but he did not know if another negotiating session would take place with the union.

The main issue in negotiations is how to split up the ever- growing amount of local revenue generated by some NFL teams. According to some reports, this locally-generated revenue, which has grown dramatically over the past 10 years, now accounts for 20 percent of the NFL's total revenue pie.

But under the current collective bargaining agreement, that money does not have to be shared with the players. In fact, it doesn't even have to be shared with other teams, leading to a growing gap between the league's high-revenue teams and lower-revenue teams.

This locally-generated money comes in the form of naming rights, luxury suite leases, and corporate sponsorships among other things. The NFL players association wants a share of this money to be included into the pool of revenue used to create the annual salary cap. (Previously, only network television revenue and income from ticket sales funded this pool.)

Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the players association, says he's willing to accept no less than 60 percent of the new total football revenue, which would include the locally-generated money. The league is offering either 56 percent of 58 percent according to various reports.

A few percentage points may not sound like much, but under the current system each percentage point amounts to $2.5 million per team, per year, in an collective bargaining agreement extension.

Without an extension agreement Sunday, the league year would begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday with a salary cap of $94.5 million per team. Signing bonuses could be pro-rated - or spread out - for only four years instead of the usual seven. And salaries could increase only 30 percent annually after the first year of contracts.

Such provisions make it difficult for teams to finesse the cap with back-loaded contracts, and could lead to smaller signing bonuses. Cap-strapped teams are hoping for an extension, because it's expected to push the cap figure over $100 million.

As things stands now, several teams, including Washington and Tampa Bay, will be forced to jettison veteran players to squeeze under the current $94.5 million cap limit. Massive cuts were expected Thursday, but what was dubbed "Bloody Thursday" never materialized after the start of the league year was pushed back three days.

The delay basically put the entire league in limbo - players, teams, and agents.

"Nobody knows what to do," said Harold Lewis, a St. Louis- based sports agent. "It's just a cloud of smoke right now, and we don't know when it's going to clear so we can see what's going on."

Last year, Lewis signed five players who were either unrestricted free agents or cap casualties to new contracts totaling $115 million. This year, he's like everyone else: Waiting for the situation to clarify.

"Me, every agent that I know, and every team that I deal with says we don't know what to do," Lewis said. "We're hoping that it gets settled and resolved. And there's no reason it shouldn't be resolved."

Normally, this time of the year is characterized by frenzied spending at the start of the free agency period. But the combination of the uncertain labor picture and the delayed start of the league year made for a quiet weekend.

At the moment, the only players that can be signed are any cap casualties that already have been released. Along those lines, the Rams have interest in defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, released Thursday by Dallas. Glover spent several seasons playing for Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in New Orleans.