Notes: Brown May Not Be Roadblock

One of the owners who understood the old CBA was bad for the NFL might not stand in the way of a deal this time. Plus, more notes from league insider Len Pasquarelli.

For years, Cincinnati owner Mike Brown has been a whipping boy for critics of the Bengals, and those who skewer the franchise for a perception of years of penurious spending habits. To suggest that outsiders consider Brown and the Bengals as cheap would be a gross understatement.

But Brown, who was one of only two owners to vote against the expired collective bargaining agreement in 2006 (Buffalo's Ralph Wilson was the other), looked a lot smarter when, just two years after approving the labor deal, league owners voted unanimously to opt out of it. And he might be slowly changing his perceived stance on the NFL's latest supposed proposal, unveiled on Tuesday to owners.

The widely held assumption has been that Brown, because he is a small-market owner, might oppose many of the financial tenets that were presented Tuesday to owners in Chicago as the possible foundation for an agreement. But word from the meeting, where there was admittedly little leakage about the sentiments of some individual owners, is that Brown is actually on the fence about several of the elements of a possible accord.

According to the presumptive details first reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, and subsequently confirmed by several owners, one of the proposed stipulations is that clubs spend close to 100 percent of a year's salary cap "floor" number in terms of real payroll. The spending floor would be about 90 percent to 93 percent of the total cap limit. And, of interest — and, frankly, surprise — to many of his critics, Brown has done so.

Unlike many of his free-spending peers, Brown and the Bengals don't believe in investing future money. The collective mind-set of the Bengals is to prefer a "pay as you go" philosophy, one that attempts to avoid so-called "dead money." It might surprise a lot of people, but Cincinnati often comes closer to the cap, in terms of actual payroll, than some franchises with higher cap numbers.

According to several owners with whom The Sports Xchange spoke after the meeting's adjournment Tuesday, there seemed to be less opposition than had been portrayed by the media before the caucus. One suggested that, based on his unofficial "nose count," there was nothing close to the nine opposition votes it would take to scuttle a deal.

Of course, as commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out and owners emphasized — and NFLPA executive director De Smith noted in a conference call to player reps later in the week — there remains considerable work to be accomplished. Just in terms of the practical work involved — committing an agreement from a handshake to contract language, having attorneys review the pact, ensuring court approval and having the rank-and-file vote on an accord — is time consuming. But there may not be as many owner/roadblocks as people thought there might be.

None of that is to suggest that Brown's "no" vote of 2006 will turn into a "yes" five years later, but it might.

Uneven Steve(n)

He probably won't say so publicly, but one veteran runner who probably would welcome a trade once the lockout ends, sources tell The Sports Xchange, is Houston fourth-year tailback Steve Slaton.

The former West Virginia star, a third-round choice in the 2008 draft, rushed for a team-best 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie. But a shoulder injury has plagued him the past two seasons, and limited Slaton to 150 rushes and 530 yards. Last year, after losing the starting job to Arian Foster, he logged just 19 carries and 93 yards, and didn't score a touchdown.

Slaton is only 25 years old, doesn't have a lot of tread rubbed off the tires yet, and is a good receiver, so he could be an attractive No. 2 back for some team seeking to bolster the position. Rumors have linked him to St. Louis, where the Rams could use a reliable back capable of getting 6-8 touches per game, to reduce the workload for Steven Jackson, but the talk has been unsubstantiated.

Slaton is under contract for 2011 at the league minimum base salary, then would be eligible for free agency next spring. For the right price, though, he would provide a solid, experienced back for a year. The Texans already have Foster and reports have been good on the recovery of 2010 second-rounder Ben Tate, who missed his entire rookie campaign because of a fractured ankle, so Slaton may be expendable.

Deja view

The revelation that owners want the ability to have a right of first refusal on some pending unrestricted players, as reported by ESPN and Howard Balzer of The Sports Xchange, is strangely reminiscent of Oakland owner Al Davis' stance in 1993. Davis argued that every team should annually have 4-5 franchise tags at their disposal, and his stance probably delayed the CBA agreement for a while.

Despite his legion critics, Davis has been a league visionary, but he was wrong about that one. Most clubs don't even employ the one franchise designation at their disposal. The concept isn't likely to fly. Nor is an argument that clubs should be able to get a "second bite" at applying the franchise marker to four- or five-year veterans that they didn't tag back in February at the deadline.

Bulg(er)ing with competiveness

Pending free agent quarterback Marc Bulger has been consistent during the offseason in not addressing rumors about where he might play in 2011, and even remained mum last week when Kurt Warner suggested that, at this point in his career, the 11-year veteran might be content to simply be a backup.

But people close to the 34-year-old Bulger, whose father was an old high school classmate of yours truly, took some umbrage at Warner's remarks.

"He still has the fire to play," said one member of the Bulger camp. "Last year, when he didn't get off the bench (in Baltimore), it wasn't like he got completely cozy with being the No. 2 guy. The situation, though, will have to be the right one."

The last part of the equation — identifying a spot where Bulger would be able to compete for a starting job — might be the hardest. The dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL aside, there simply aren't a ton of starting jobs available. The Tip Sheet reported two months ago that Arizona would be Bulger's most logical landing spot — and cited some reports that a few NFL officials actually felt there might be an "understanding" between the two parties — but other media reports have linked the Cardinals to a trade for Philadelphia backup Kevin Kolb.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt recently suggested that he preferred to get a younger veteran quarterback, so he might not be in the market for an older guy like Bulger. But people close to Bulger continue to insist that he still retains a competitive streak and has not just settled in to a No. 2 quarterback mentality.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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