Expansion, a subject that has been on the NFL's slow track the past two months, speeds up a bit this week when it finally reaches the discussion stage with the owners.
On Tuesday in Dallas, commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his staff will brief members of the expansion committee on the presentations the various cities made in New York in December.
It is a prelude to the annual week-long owners' meeting in March, where they are scheduled to cut the current field of 10 to a short list -- probably five or six cities.
The owners on the expansion committee are Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns, Norman Braman of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rankin Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Edward DeBartolo of the San Francisco 49ers and Alex Spanos of the San Diego Chargers. None of them heard the New York presentations.
There has been speculation that at this week's meeting, a couple of the applicants could be formally dismissed from the race. Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., which are overlapped by Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., and haven't come up with ownership groups, are considered to have no chance.
It's uncertain whether that will happen, but a league spokesman said, "I wouldn't rule anything out."
Besides Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Charlotte and Memphis, the other six applicants are Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Calif., Jacksonville, Fla., San Antonio and Sacramento, Calif.
Since the December presentations by the 10 cities, NFL staff members have had conference calls with representatives of some of the cities asking for additional information.
Baltimore was not called, and Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he thinks that is a positive sign because he was given the indication that the Baltimore delegation had already answered all the league's questions at this point. More presentations are likely after the field is cut next month. Baltimore is considered a virtual certainty to be on the short list.
The league still is giving no guarantees that it will actually go ahead and expand -- Tagliabue repeated last week in Sacramento that the timetable could be delayed because of labor problems -- but at least the process is going forward for now.
During a Sacramento visit that was designed to promote the city's WLAF team, Tagliabue was asked about what the league is looking for in expansion cities. He said: "There are no simple criteria. Population is not a litmus test. Size of the TV market is not a litmus test. The question the [expansion] committee will ask is: what assets to the various cities bring to the NFL? I'm not at a point to assess any of them right now."
Labor pains: The relationship between the owners and players couldn't be much worse. Both sides are virtually accusing each other of lying.
Tagliabue said last week that the NFL scrubbed the plan to delay the start of Plan B from Feb. 1 to March 1 because the players pulled back on their support.
"We thought we had their support, but they did a 180 on us," Tagliabue said. The NFL Players Association has denied it ever supported a delay.
Tagliabue, though, won't concede he has no chance of stopping the upcoming antitrust trial by getting a collective bargaining agreement.
"I think we have a shot at getting something done," he said. He's been saying that for two years, but things keep getting worse. Meanwhile, both sides are waiting for federal judge David Doty to set a trial date. Motions are scheduled to be heard in his chambers Friday.
To illustrate how far apart the two sides are, Tagliabue said, "I don't think free agency would be good for the NFL or the players."
Total free agency is what the NFLPA is trying to get in court because the owners won't agree to it at the bargaining table.
When Fort Knox calls, he answers: : The Plan B signing period got off to its typical slow start. There aren't expected to be many signings before next month.
But it was ominous news for Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood that the Bills made Tampa Bay kicker Steve Christie the first of this year's signees.
Christie, who hit 23 of 27 field goal attempts last year, got a four-year, $2.3 million deal, which means he'll probably replace Norwood.
Sam Wyche, Tampa Bay's new coach, said he thought he had an agreement with Christie that he'd stay even though he was wasn't protected. Wyche said Christie looked him in the eye, shook his hand and said, "Coach, I'll be here."
Publicly, Christie said he was staying "unless someone drops Fort Knox in my driveway."
When Buffalo dropped off Fort Knox, he was gone.
Meanwhile, Joe Bugel, the former Washington Redskins offensive line coach who is now the Phoenix Cardinals head coach, has called Joe Jacoby, Don Warren and Jeff Bostic to tell them he's interested if they want to leave Washington. Like Christie, they've all told the Redskins they won't leave.