Tagliabue just 1 vote shy of getting deal done

PRO FOOTBALL

December 20, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Imagine going before a judge and telling him you've got an agreement to settle a lawsuit from all the parties except the ones doing the suing.

The judge probably wouldn't be amused.

Those are some of the basic legal facts of life that commissioner Paul Tagliabue had to explain to the owners at their meeting last week in Dallas.

One of the many objections the owners had to the deal Tagliabue made with the players 10 days ago was that all the players who were plaintiffs in the various lawsuits had to be granted free agency.

Norman Braman, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't like that idea because he stands to lose three All-Pro defensive players -- Reggie White, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons.

Tagliabue had to make the owners understand that the NFL couldn't settle the free-agency lawsuit without the approval of the players who sued for free agency. That issue was decided months ago.

Tagliabue also pounded home the theme that the price was worth the prize. In the end, the deal giving the owners a hard salary cap that will put a limit on player costs is worth giving free agency to all five-year players except one franchise player and three transitional players in the first two years of the deal.

By the end of the meeting, the owners seemed to be getting the message and Tagliabue appeared to be winning his gamble.

When Tagliabue hammered out the agreement in principle 10 days ago with Jim Quinn, the players' attorney, and with just one owner, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was counting on selling the owners on the value of the whole deal.

In advance, they wouldn't have approved his compromises on free agency. But as part of a done deal for a salary cap, he figured they would eventually see the value in it.

Although it appeared at first glance that he suffered a setback in Dallas because he didn't get the deal approved, it was a positive meeting because he set the stage for eventual approval.

The significant thing Tagliabue did get in Dallas was the reaffirmation of the owners' earlier decision that he only needs four positive votes on the seven-member committee to ratify the deal. That's a lot easier than getting 21 of 28 votes and it's a sign that while the owners aren't thrilled with the deal, many of them realize it's better than the alternative -- fighting on in court. One thing they can't win in court is a salary cap.

Tagliabue is still one vote shy of getting approval, but he is optimistic he can eventually get at least one more vote. He met with Quinn Thursday and will meet again tomorrow to make a few minor "adjustments" on the deal to make it easier to sell. It could finally be approved this week.

If Tagliabue does get the deal approved, the owners will then have run out of excuses not to go ahead with expansion.

Hale and hearty

The controversy over the future of the New York Giants has now engulfed general manager George Young.

A New York Times columnist speculated last week that Young might want to step down as general manager because of his health -- he recently had a six-day hospital stay with a virus. That led to speculation that former coach Bill Parcells could return as both coach and GM.

Young responded that it was his first hospital stay in 48 years and that he's fine and plans to stay on the job.

Young said the team's main problem is that it has to look ahead instead of back.

"When that guy [Scott Norwood] in Buffalo, missed that field goal [in Super Bowl XXV], that was the end of that. We have to go on with the future. We can't be thinking about what used to be. We have to think about what is and what will be. As soon as we grasp that major point, the better off we'll be," he said.

Young won't speculate on the future of coach Ray Handley. He only says what he's said all along: he'll be evaluated at the end

of the year.

Lighten up

Jimmy Johnson has to make one final adjustment from college to pro football. The Dallas Cowboys coach has to understand he can't win all the time the way he did at the University of Miami and that he'll suffer a lot of frustrating losses in the NFL. After all, even Don Shula lost four Super Bowls.

He showed he hadn't learned that lesson with his startling reaction to the loss in Washington last week. In the overall scope of things, it wasn't an important loss. The Cowboys can still clinch the division title today if the Redskins beat the Eagles or tomorrow night by beating the Atlanta Falcons.

But Johnson was obsessed with the idea of winning the division on the home field of the defending champion. On the plane ride home, he yelled at a player for smiling and two days after the game at a news conference, he was near tears in talking about the loss. He compared a regular-season loss to Miami's loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl that cost his team the national championship.

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