NFL Owners Still Considering Latest Union Proposal

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March 7, 2006

By SportsTicker


GRAPEVINE, Texas (Ticker) - Apparently, all the NFL labor talks have established is that there is no such thing as a deadline.

According to reports, a decision on whether to extend the collective bargaining agreement likely will happen Wednesday.

ESPN.com reported that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue informed owners that they would meet until 11 p.m. EST on Tuesday, and resume talks Wednesday morning to consider the Players Association's latest proposal.

Hours after negotiations between representatives of the NFL and the Players Association broke off Sunday in an attempt to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, both sides again agreed to postpone free agency another 72 hours.

Free agency originally was to begin on Friday, then was pushed back to Monday as both sides tried to hammer out a deal to extend the CBA, which runs through 2007 but ends with an uncapped year.

The owners made a new proposal to Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw on Sunday, but no agreement was reached before the latest deadline.

However, the deadline was pushed back again after Upshaw presented the owners with a proposal on Sunday night. Owners were expected to come to a decision Tuesday.

The free agent period, which was set to begin on Monday, will now start on Thursday.

Without an extension to the CBA, the salary cap for the 2006 season will stand at $94.5 million, well above last year's figure of $85.5 million. But if an agreement is reached, then the cap will inflate to about $102 million.

The extended deadlines have relieved pressure on teams to release players and meet the 2006 salary cap figure. Teams now have until 9 p.m. Wednesday to get under the cap.

Some teams made moves on Sunday. The New York Jets restructured the contract of quarterback Chad Pennington and released six-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae.

Veteran wide receiver Isaac Bruce of the St. Louis Rams, quarterback Kerry Collins of the Oakland Raiders and linebacker LaVar Arrington of the Washington Redskins also were cut Sunday, pending the resolution of the labor talks. Those moves could be rescinded if an extension to the CBA is reached.

The removal of the salary cap for the 2007 season has long-term ramifications. If the sides are unable to agree to an extension, Upshaw has said the union would not accept a salary cap in the future.

But any windfall of spending would be limited by other changes, including requiring players to have six years of service to qualify for unrestricted free agency instead of four. The average NFL career lasts between three and four years.

The major sticking point is in the sharing of "total football revenues." The union wants at least 60 percent of revenues that represent a new formula that expands from the television and ticket receipts that largely account for the "designated gross revenues" in the current CBA.

Owners are willing to give 56 percent of "designated gross revenues" but believe the union is not entitled to new revenue streams from stadiums. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue described the union as "overreaching" in asking for 60 percent.

Upshaw has threatened to decertify the union and take the league to court if stalled labor talks did not yield an agreement by mid-March. Decertifying would involve disbanding the union and going to antitrust court to ask for a set of rules under which the NFL would operate.

The union decertified to end the 1987 strike and played without a CBA until 1992. The court eventually ruled in favor of the union, leading to the current deal with free agency and a salary cap which took effect in 1993.

Since then, labor negotiations have been amicable due to a strong personal relationship between Tagliabue and Upshaw. Unlike other major professional sports leagues, the NFL and union have traditionally extended bargaining agreements long before expiration.

Edgerrin James of the Indianapolis Colts and Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens are the top free agent running backs on the market.

The Colts are about $9 million over the cap and will not have the ability to match a lucrative offer for James, a two-time rushing champion. The Ravens have room under the cap to match an offer for Lewis, who rushed for 906 yards last season and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

Quarterback Drew Brees, linebackers Julian Peterson and Will Witherspoon, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Ty Law, wide receivers David Givens and Antwaan Randle El and center LeCharles Bentley are other prominent free agents on the market.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens also will become a free agent after he is released by the Philadelphia Eagles.