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Labor talks between NFL, players union resume wire reports

NEW YORK (March 3, 2006) –Talks between the NFL and its players union resumed the afternoon of March 3, minus the rhetoric that has characterized earlier discussions.

That was perhaps a sign that the sides take seriously the ramifications of beginning free agency without a new deal — something that was seven hours away from happening before the league and the union agreed March 2 to extend by three days the start of the NFL’s new calendar year.

It now begins at 12:01 a.m. EST on March 6.

The two sides were not talking publicly and wouldn’t even reveal the location of the talks — but they were believed to be in New York, where they broke off earlier in the week after three days. Owners were under the threat of fines for talking to the media and Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, and other union officials were equally silent.

But silence sometimes signals hope in labor negotiations. And the best sign may be the decision to resume talks, which came a day after commissioner Paul Tagliabue suggested the picture for any agreement was grim.

Another good sign was that Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh and Jerry Richardson of Carolina — two owners who are considered moderates — stayed in New York after March 2’s league meeting to help with the talks. Rooney has helped settle labor disputes before and is one of the owners Upshaw trusts.

Owners like Carolina's Jerry Richardson stayed in New York to work something out.  
Owners like Carolina’s Jerry Richardson stayed in New York to work something out.    

The contract between the players and the league doesn’t expire for another two seasons.

But this would be the final year of the salary cap, which will be about $94.5 million this year if there is no labor agreement. That would leave many teams well over the cap, which could be $10 million more if there is a contract extension, forcing them to cut many veterans.

If there is no deal and the cap doesn’t increase, it would leave a glut of players on the free-agent market and many teams without much money to sign them. Next year, the final season of the contract, would be without a cap — and that would contain limitations that could hurt the players, such as raising the number of years of eligibility for free agency from four to six.

Both sides appear to have reached the brink of that situation, and then realized it was better to try again to reach agreement than to face it.

In fact, there were reports that a number of players called the union urging officials to reconsider their position to avoid a scenario that would most likely have its biggest impact on high-salaried veterans — players such as New York Jets center Kevin Mawae, Kansas City guard Will Shields and Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, all multi-time Pro Bowlers in danger of being cut.

On the other hand, those players are often in danger of being cut. Dallas, for example, announced it has released La’Roi Glover, who is second in career sacks among defensive tackles behind Warren Sapp.

On the surface, the dispute is over percentage points — the union says it wants 60-plus percent of league revenues earmarked for the players; the owners are offering 56.2 percent. That amounts to approximately $10 million per team per year.

Some team officials think there are other issues, including how signing bonuses are prorated for the salary cap and how much salaries can increase yearly.

“The rules are going to have a bigger impact than the dollar amount,” said Tom Lewand, chief operating officer of the Detroit Lions.

Still, there are indications there is some agreement on how to deal with those issues.

More important is a dispute among the owners — a continuing debate between high-revenue teams and low-revenue teams. The low-revenue teams contend that they would pay a far higher percentage of their non-football revenue into the player salary pool than those with higher incomes and want it balanced.

Upshaw has contended that solving that dispute could be the key to getting a new labor contract.

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