Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Owners, Players Near New Labor Deal

Len Pasquarelli reports that the NFL should reach an 11th hour deal to avert possible labor disaster in the 2007 season.

Amid indications that there has been some progress in talks aimed at extending the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, league owners are scheduled to meet Tuesday via conference call to discuss the status of negotiations. Two owners said Monday afternoon that they have delayed their departures from Indianapolis, site of the NFL scouting combine since Wednesday, to accommodate the 6 p.m. ET timing of the conference call.


The scheduling of the conference call might be the most concrete sign yet to substantiate whispers that the NFL and NFL Players’ Association, who have been discussing the proposed extension for more than a year, have finally made some headway in breaking the inertia that has marked negotiations. Without the add-on, the 2007 season would become a so-called uncapped year with no spending limit and no minimum, and players could potentially face a lockout in 2008.

Team officials and player agents have said that doing business without an extension — particularly with the free agent signing period set to begin Friday and the draft on April 29-30 — will prove virtually impossible. Because of the extreme circumstances that would exist with an uncapped year on the horizon, it would be difficult to meet the financial expectations of free agents and high-round draft choices.

Compounding the situation is that several franchises are in the throes of salary cap overages and will find it difficult, if not painful, to come into cap compliance for 2006 without an extension. If an extension is not struck before Friday, several cap managers acknowledged, there figures to be many veteran players purged from rosters in the next few days.

Among the owners who have expressed optimism that an 11th-hour deal will be hammered out is Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. “I think that we’ll likely have a deal,” Jones told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Monday. Other owners and team officials allowed there have been rumblings of progress and that they feel an extension will be in place before the end of the week. “If I were betting, I would bet there would be a deal by Wednesday,” Patriots vice chairman and president Jonathan Kraft said on Monday night on Fox Sports New England. “I’ve said sanity will ultimately prevail,” an owner of an AFC team said. “Hopefully, we’re getting to that point. This has always been a deadline league and the clock is ticking. Smart people from both sides know that we all need this. I mean, why kill the golden goose?”

If a deal is struck before Friday, it is likely the start of free agency would be delayed at least a week in order to allow teams to recalculate their cap status. NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw insisted last week he will not delay the free agency timetable. That stance aside, Upshaw might reconsider if an accord that extends the CBA also means a significantly higher spending limit for 2006.

Still to be resolved as well is the issue of revenue sharing among the league’s 32 franchises. Given the increasing disparity between the high revenue teams and those at the bottom of the earning chart, the issue is a significant one and the subject of considerable debate. But there are signs that some owners are ready to reach a deal with the NFLPA before proceeding to a battle over revenue-sharing models.

The NFL has a good thing going for both the owners and players; an NHL style showdown would have been asinine. Figuring out how to distribute non-television and ticket revenue is going to be sticky, but history has shown that the owners and players alike will avoid doing something stupid.

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