NFL, players reach agreement

The Green Bay Packers gained an extra $7.5 million to spend on Wednesday night after the league approved a six-year extension to the collective-bargaining agreement.

Under a last-minute deal approved 30-2 by league owners, the salary cap for the 2006 season will be $102 million. That's $7.5 million more than the $94.5 million figure that would have kicked in had the owners and players not come to terms on Wednesday.

While the players will pocket more money, the teams retain the financial certainty guaranteed by the salary cap, which would have vanished in 2007 — and perhaps forever — if a deal had not been struck. That was the key for the Packers, team president Bob Harlan said.

"We're delighted with the new CBA and that a salary-cap system was preserved," said Harlan, who attended the league meetings in Grapevine, Texas, with executive vice president John Jones. "Continuation of the salary cap was our No. 1 goal because without it, the long-term viability of the Packers would be in doubt. The resulting new labor deal protects the future of the Green Bay Packers."

Under the agreement, players will earn 59.5 percent of all football revenues. While the Packers have more money to spend — they are about $32.5 million under the new cap — far fewer players will be on the market than expected. Numerous teams would have had to slash rosters to get under the $94.5 million cap. The extra $7.5 million will prevent a rash of cuts Thursday and Friday.

Free agency, delayed twice as the players and owners tried to hammer out an agreement, begins at 11:05 p.m. Central time on Friday.

The main stumbling block wasn't so much between the players and the owners as it was between the owners themselves and how they would split the remaining 40.5 percent of revenues.

Finally, they agreed to increase the amount of revenue shared between the big-money and small-money teams. The top 15 teams in terms of income will share some $900 million with the rest of the league over the next six years.

The Packers, once one of the poorer teams in the league, have soared into the upper third in income, thanks in large part to the Lambeau Field renovation. That means they'll be contributing money to the fund, and that's something Harlan supports.

"Dramatic revenue-sharing will enable all clubs to be competitive in this new system," Harlan said. "We supported revenue sharing and are very happy to see it continued. We have always felt that the National Football League had the best system in professional sports and, fortunately, we have been able to maintain that system, which creates 32 competitive teams."

Reportedly, the richest five teams will pay the most money. The next five teams will pay a smaller percentage, and the 11th- through 15th-ranked teams will pay a smaller percentage still.

"I know this, you had to have your league hat on — your NFL hat — to make this work," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who almost certainly will be in the upper tier of teams paying the most money. "Then you had to go one step further. You had to get on past where the players are because at the end of the day, they have been well taken care of. You had to look straight through that and look at the fans."

Under the old agreement, the players received 64.5 percent of the money generated by television contracts and ticket sales. That's hardly all the money teams earn, however — there are radio deals, stadium naming rights and signage, concessions, luxury boxes and merchandise — and the players wanted a share of the rest of that money.

The NFL Players Association sought 60 percent of all revenues, and wound up getting just about all of that.

If an agreement hadn't been reached by Wednesday, free agency would have started at 11:01 p.m. Wednesday Central time. The salary cap would have been $94.5 million. Scores of players would have been released. The cap, however, would have vanished for 2007, the final year of the CBA, and NFLPA leader Gene Upshaw vowed that if the cap disappeared, it never would return. The players, meantime, would have to play for six seasons before being eligible for free agency instead of four years.

The salary cap for 2007 will be about $109 million.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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