NFL labor deal OK'd

Six-year extension of bargaining agreement averts salary cap crisis

March 09, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

The NFL's founding fathers would have been proud.

After two days of crucial meetings near a Dallas airport, NFL owners voted 30-2 to approve a six-year extension of the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players that avoided what could have been years of uncertainty and crisis.

Though few details were available, the deal did broaden the scope of revenue sharing among clubs to include more locally generated income. Only the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, two so-called low-revenue teams, voted against the deal.

The extension means that teams will have a 2006 salary cap of about $102 million, approximately $7.5 million more than without the extension, and the cap increases to $109 million in 2007, according to ESPN. The more restrictive cap for this season likely would have caused the release of a substantial number of veterans.

"I'm pleased." commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the New York Daily News. "More than pleased, I'm relieved."

Free agency could begin as soon as 12:01 a.m. tomorrow or be pushed back another 24 hours.

"It was a good compromise." said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. "We're happy with it - 30-2 is a good vote."

Although the bargaining agreement has two years to run, the beginning of free agency without an extension would have triggered a series of events that neither the players nor the owners wanted to see happen.

Essential to reaching a resolution with the players was the owners adopting a modification of revenue sharing in which high-revenue clubs would share a greater portion of locally generated income, such as income from luxury boxes and stadium naming rights. Those high-revenue teams included the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

"Some teams are contributing a little more than others." Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said. "This is really a win-win."

While Washington is a franchise likely to pay more under revised revenue sharing, the Redskins would have been hurt badly in the short run by a restrictive cap this season because their cap figure far exceeded the $94.5 million threshold. As a result, they would have been forced to release some key players.

The proposal being considered by the owners near Dallas was largely crafted by the players union after weekend bargaining between the two sides.

"This agreement is not about one side winning and losing." said Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association. "Ultimately, it is about what is best for the players, the owners and the fans of the National Football League. As caretakers of the game we have acted in the manner the founders intended."

Longtime league rebel Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders was in the mainstream this time. "It's intelligent, it makes sense be cause we do have the greatest game in the world." Davis said.

Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson said he voted against the proposal because it moved too quickly to a vote and he admitted he didn't fully understand it.

The union still has to approve the agreement, but that's considered a formality.

With labor peace assured, it is expected that both sides can look forward to a continuation of the league's successful economic model of revenue sharing, a salary cap and carefully defined free agency.

Tagliabue, who presented the players union's proposal, reportedly gave a speech Tuesday to owners that New York Giants executive Steve Tisch called animated and passionate.

Last night, Tagliabue called the agreement a "tremendous effort by owners across the entire spectrum of the league."

ESPN reported that the revenue sharing plan will require the top 15 revenue teams to contribute more of their income on a sliding scale.

In coming to an agreement on revenue sharing, yesterday's action by owners harkened back to the early days of the NFL when big-market owners, specifically the late Wellington Mara of the Giants, first agreed to a unified national TV contract that became the foundation for the NFL's vaunted financial and competitive balance.

The accord that came from yesterday's meeting, which had been viewed as a crossroads moment for the league, at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was also a historic echo of sorts. It was at another Dallas airport, Love Field, where four decades ago Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and late Cowboys executive Tex Schramm secretly worked on the details of the AFL-NFL merger that launched pro football's consolidated era of Super Bowls and prosperity.

The agreement on an extension avoided countless short- and long-term complications for the league and its players.

Besides the restrictive cap this season leading to a purge of veterans by some clubs, it have would also meant a tight market for the players who were waived and for free agents coming onto the market. And top draft picks, disappointed with salary offers, likely would have been training camp holdouts.

Then, 2007 would have been an uncapped season, giving teams with big war chests an apparent competitive advantage, but the free-agent landscape would have been altered by another change that increased the time for earning unrestricted free agency to six years from four.

With the bargaining agreement expiring after the 2007 season, there was concern that the players might face a lockout for 2008.

However, all those dire consequences now can be forgotten.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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