Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, put the current situation as succinctly as he possibly could. "We're deadlocked. There's nowhere to go," he said. "There's no reason to continue meeting."
The problem is that the current CBA’s expiration date is imminent – free agency begins on Friday, and the clock could strike midnight without a resolution, a scenario that could be devastating to the future competitive balance of the league.
In the weeks leading up to the current labor talks, the news was indifferent at best – all we heard was that there was little or no news, and that the owners and the union could not resolve the impasse which separated them. But as Scout.com first reported on Saturday, there had been recent agreement on enough issues to warrant optimism that an extension was likely.
According to an Associated Press story today, the issues agreed upon include the formula for the amount of money to go to the players from "designated gross revenues" - primarily television and ticket sales - to "total gross revenues," which include almost every bit of money generated by a team.
At last report, the primary issue appears to be the percentage of revenues the players would receive - the union is asking for 60 percent, and the league's current offer is 56.2 percent.
Another sticking point seems to be the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” – owners of teams such as the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, among the league leaders in gross revenue, and smaller market teams like the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. Some owners are concerned that equal contributions to the players’ fund will leave them holding the bag – in effect, paying equal amounts for a lesser return.
Larger-revenue owners, like Dallas’ Jerry Jones, may counter with the notion that such a contribution requirement will require owners on the wrong side of the income spectrum to work harder to generate revenue.
New England’s Robert Kraft has reportedly thrown another wrench into the works with his concern that the new formula does not take stadium debt into account.
At this point, both sides are pulling back and playing hardball. Upshaw continued his take with the media on Tuesday: "We're too far apart on our economics and too far apart on revenue sharing -- the ball is in their court," he said. "We'll go to the uncapped year, there won't be an extension."
The NFL has issued the following statement:
Negotiations with the NFL Players Association on an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement broke off today with no further talks scheduled. Commissioner Tagliabue then notified clubs that a special league meeting will be held on Thursday (March 2nd) in New York to explain to the NFL clubs how the NFLPA is overreaching and why we have been unable to come to an agreement with the NFLPA on an extension. There will be no discussion at Thursday’s league meeting of internal revenue-sharing issues. The league year will begin as scheduled on Friday, March 3.
According to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, the owner’s meetings in Dallas next week have been cancelled.
If there is no extension in the next 48 hours, NFL clubs will have to revert to their “Plan B”, a strategy that includes a truly horrific number of roster cuts, draft pick signing issues and potential holdouts. The 2006 salary cap will likely be set at $95 million as previously reported, 2007 will indeed be an uncapped year, and 2008 could be the real mystery. Questions of union decertification, and the legality of the draft, could arise.
Essentially, what happens between the league and the union in the next two days will decide whether the NFL of the future resembles the NFL you know in any way, shape or form.