Sports Outside the Beltway

Tagliabue: Now or Never

John Clayton reports on yesterday’s owner meetings on the new labor contract. It appears that this is a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

For the first three hours of Tuesday’s crucial NFL owners meeting here, everything was informational. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and others detailed the six-year proposal from the NFL Players Association that commanded 59.5 percent of team revenues. Like patients receiving medicine, the owners took the bad news dose by dose. Labor costs were much higher than expected. Provisions in the deal irritated owners and front-office people alike. Few liked what they heard.

The tone of the meeting changed when the subject turned to revenue sharing, a problem within the league that has been getting worse for the past two years. In response to a question, Tagliabue stood up and delivered what some considered to be the best speech in his term as commissioner.

Remember, Tagliabue isn’t taking a position — publicly or privately — on whether owners should accept or reject the players’ proposal. His agreement with NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw was to present the union’s final proposal to the full body of owners, even though he knows the cost it carries is probably higher than what the owners are willing to accept. Yet, during Tagliabue’s answer that turned into a speech, he emphasized the importance of walking out of this meeting Wednesday with some kind of a deal. He knows Upshaw is done negotiating. The union granted the owners a three-day reprieve for the start of free agency so they can decide if this deal is acceptable.

But Tagliabue’s words hit home.

“I think he has made it very clear to me and the other owners that the future of labor relations, player relations, union relations are going to be decided in 24 hours,” Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. “I never heard Paul more opinionated and more animated and committed and passionate as he was tonight. I’m extremely impressed with his positioning, his leadership and his passion, which really came up in the afternoon sessions.”

Owners wouldn’t repeat Tagliabue’s words, but they were apparent. Negotiations with the union are done. The players were willing to reject the NFL’s last proposal and start free agency Sunday night. The league was heading toward an uncapped 2007 and a possible lockout in 2008 had someone not done something.


Tagliabue made it clear that at this point there is no more negotiating with the union. If the owners accept the proposal before 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, free agency will start at 12:01 a.m. Friday. If there is no acceptance, free agency will start Thursday as scheduled and 2006 will be perhaps the last year in NFL history with a salary cap.


Talks resumed at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, giving the owners 11 hours to get word back to the NFLPA about whether they accept the proposal or not.

One thing is clear: There will be no extensions past Wednesday.

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