Free Agency Pushed Back Again

Once again, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to stand down from their respective positions and extend the deadline to get a deal done. Less then an hour before free agency was scheduled to begin, both sides agreed to a 72-hour extension. Free agency will now begin at 12:01 AM EST on Thursday, March 9.

The deadline to come under cap compliance has also been delayed - it is now Wednesday, March 8 at 9:00 PM EST.

The Tuesday owner's meetings in Dallas, once cancelled this week when the dealmaking appeared to be dead, will now be the stage for the owners to consider the union's latest counter offer.

After another day of talks, the league and the union agreed to continue negotiating for a few more hours. Reports then indicated that union representatives walked out of the CBA meetings in New York. The deadline for all teams to become compliant with the current salary cap was extended from 6:00 PM EST to 10:00 PM EST, and then to 11:30 PM EST. Reports indicate that the league wanted to move the deadline back to Wednesday, but the players association would only agree to the four-hour extension. Then, after more back-and-forth, union reps simply walked out of the room, killing further talks on Sunday. Union head Gene Upshaw then released the following statement:

"The talks ended today after the NFL gave us a proposal which provided a percentage of revenues for the players which would be less than they received over the last 12 years. After suggesting we extend the waiver deadline from six o'clock to ten this evening, they gave us a new proposal which was worse than their prior offer. Quite naturally, we rejected that proposal and saw no need to continue meeting.

"Under our previous cap agreement, we got just less than 60 percent of all of the revenues. The NFL now wants us to cut that percentage to less than 57 percent. Given the enormous revenue growth the NFL is experiencing, I am not about to give back gains which we have made in the past. It is clear to me that we will do much better under our current CBA in 2006 and particularly in 2007, the uncapped year.

"I continue to believe that the problem lies with the high revenue clubs and the revenue sharing issue. Their refusal to share more revenues is making it worse for everybody -- players, owners, and fans."

As expected in this game of "He Said/She Said", the NFL had a response, courtesy of Harold Henderson, the league's executive vice president for labor relations. Henderson said that the union rejected a proposal that would have $577 million for players in 2006 compared to 2005 and $1.5 billion in the six years of the extension. "It's an unfortunate situation for the players, the fans and the league," he said

If an agreement is not reached, several teams would have to make scathing cuts to get under the cap. It was always assumed that if a deal is made, free agency will be pushed back a few days to give teams enough time to deal with the changes.

A Sunday morning report by Washington Post reporter Mark Maske indicated that after a lot of "doom and-gloom" talk last night when talks broke off, the league and the union may be close to the deal everyone has been praying for – the deal which would allow an extension of the CBA. In an e-mail referred to in Maske's report, union head Gene Upshaw said that the sides are "now in the area where we will get a deal. I think it may be there. It comes down to a few final points."

However, there are still hurdles. On Saturday, reports indicated that the owners increased the percentage of total revenue they would allow the players to receive from 56.2 percent to 58.2 percent. While Upshaw had previously said that he needed a number "above sixty", it would certainly be feasible to imagine his climbing down from that tree.

From there, the primary issue becomes how that money is spent. A ratification of the CBA extension would increase the 2006 salary cap from its current $94.5 million to somewhere in the neighborhood in $105 million, according to many reports. The owners of lower-revenue teams are concerned that they will have to pay a much higher percentage of their earnings to the players than the "fat cats", and some could not afford the increased personnel expenses.

The owners of high-revenue teams, like Dallas' Jerry Jones and Washington's Daniel Snyder, may be willing to compromise with the "cash over cap" provision – a proposed clause in the new CBA that would restrict and mandate how signing bonuses are paid over time.

Revenue sharing is the larger and more complicated issue here, and it's not one that's likely to be settled on the heels of current talks. Owners have said that a new agreement can be reached without drastic modifications to the revenue sharing model. The "cash-over-cap" provision would seem to be the bridge that gets everyone from here to there.

In any event, it appeared that the on-again/off-again nature of these talks is very much on. After looking into the abyss of uncapped years, lockouts and fiscal anarchy after so many years of labor peace and mutual prosperity, it would be a great tragedy if all involved can't agree that it's not necessary to get hit by a car to know how much it hurts.


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