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Be-laboring the point

NFL, union both disappointed with pace of CBA talks

Posted: Wednesday March 16, 2005 8:17PM; Updated: Wednesday March 16, 2005 9:49PM
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Gene Upshaw
Gene Upshaw is finally getting some affirmation about the need to reform the current salary-cap system.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Nobody should panic and start making plans just yet for NFL-less Sundays in the fall of 2008, but still there continue to be gathering storm clouds on the horizon in regards to the league's efforts to negotiate an extension of the collective bargaining agreement with the players union.

An NHL-like work stoppage in the offing when the current CBA ends after what promises to be a chaotic un-capped season in 2007? We're not saying it's likely, but not all that long ago it was considered unthinkable in this age of lockstep harmony between the league's management council and the NFLPA. A few short years ago, the NFL and its players union was the chummiest of business partners in every sense, and the model that other sports pined for in terms of labor peace.

"Where we are is that the union has adopted a very aggressive economic position,'' NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello said in a Wednesday conference call that served to highlight the agenda at the league's annual meeting next week in Maui. "We're not optimistic [about an agreement]. We're not pessimistic. But we know there's a long way to go before there's a consensus.''

It was once thought that an extension agreement might come together before the March NFL owners' meetings, but a March 2 special meeting in Atlanta didn't cover enough ground in negotiations to make that possible.

The league realizes it has to tweak its salary cap system to close some of the gap between some of the higher-revenue clubs and those with less income at their disposal. The union wants the players' salary cap based on teams' total football revenues, rather than the current system, which fixes the cap based on designated gross revenue. Left out of that equation is much of the ancillary income that the higher revenue teams generate from local sponsorships, advertising and other sources that are not subject to the NFL's sacrosanct revenue sharing system.

The bottom line is that some of the richest teams only lay out about 40 percent of their revenues on players costs, while the less fortunate spend closer to 70 percent. The union says that's creating a baseball-like system of the haves and the have-nots in the NFL, and wants to address that disparity in the next CBA.

But how to best bridge that chasm and get the high-revenue owners such as Dallas' Jerry Jones, Washington's Daniel Snyder and Houston's Bob McNair to accept the leveling effects of a revenue tax is the crux of this negotiation. Then again, baseball got Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to eventually swallow the idea of a luxury tax, so anything's possible.

This much we know: The NFL's management council doesn't want to let extension talks drag on much past 2005, because then the looming up-capped 2007 season becomes more of a reality. No one in the league office or any NFL club front office wants that scenario, on the belief that once the players see what life without a salary cap is like, there'll be no way to coax that particular genie back into the bottle.

For months now, NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw has been beating the drum for a less disparate system of measuring club revenues and voicing dire concerns regarding the slow pace of extension talks. On Wednesday, Aiello seemed to echo that sentiment.