Labor talks break off days before free-agency period

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Teams are left wondering about the salary cap entering a critical planning stage.

NEW YORK -- NFL labor talks broke off Tuesday three days before the start of free agency, leaving teams and players in a quandary about negotiating new contracts.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, spent the last three days meeting in New York and Washington with commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"We're deadlocked. There's nowhere to go," Upshaw said. "There's no reason to continue meeting."

The NFL acknowledged the talks had broken off and said no further discussions were scheduled. The league said it would not extend Friday's deadline for the start of free agency.

Although the contract does not expire until after the 2007 season, this is a critical period in the negotiations to extend the 12-year-old agreement. Talks have been going on for more than a year.

Free agency is scheduled to start Friday. If the deal is not extended, this would be the last year with a salary cap, so agents and team officials want to know how to structure contracts.

For example, if there is no extension, the salary cap is expected to be about $95 million this season and annual raises after 2006 in a long-term deal would be limited to 30 percent. If the deal is extended the cap could be $10 million or more higher.

The sides have agreed on a number of issues. The biggest one is changing the formula for the amount of money to go to the players from "designated gross revenue" -- primarily television and ticket sales -- to "total gross revenue," which include almost every bit a money a a team generates.

They differ, however, on the percentage of revenues to be allocated to the players -- the union is asking for 60 percent and the league's current offer is 56.2 percent.

But there are also disputes among groups of owners on that issue, too. Tagliabue has called a league meeting in New York for Thursday.

Teams with lower revenues -- mostly small-market clubs -- say that if the contributions to the players' fund are equally apportioned among 32 franchises, they will have to pay a substantially larger proportion of their nontelevision and ticket money because they have less. Owners of high-revenue teams, like Dallas' Jerry Jones, claim spreading the load equally would force some teams to work harder to generate new sources of money.

Another high-revenue owner, New England's Robert Kraft, says the formula does not take stadium debt into account, as he has on Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said "internal revenue-sharing issues" would not be discussed at the meeting.

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