NFL owners have called an emergency meeting Thursday in hopes of finding labor peace before the start of free agency at midnight.
Barring a new deal getting completed, there could be a mass dumping of veterans for salary-cap reasons.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, that means that instead of re-working deals for centers Jeff Hartings and Chukky Okobi, running back Duce Staley and defensive end Travis Kirschke, those players could be released outright instead.
The owners will meet in New York, seeking to find a way toward a last-minute agreement with the players union. If that happens, as much as $10 million to $15 million could be added to the 2006 salary cap that currently is projected at about $95 million. Without it, some teams could be forced into wholesale cuts to get beneath the cap by midnight.
Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, said the league is offering 56.2 percent of its total revenue for the players, almost four points lower than the union's.
"Our number has to start with a six," Upshaw told the Associated Press.
Also standing in the corner like a 400-pound gorilla is the issue of revenue sharing among the teams.
The NFL said in a statement after talks broke off Wednesday that revenue sharing won't be discussed at Thursday's meeting.
The current CBA has two years left, with 2006 scheduled to be the last year with a salary cap. The contract year 2007 is uncapped, meaning new rules will force teams and agents to change their plans this year and could keep a lot of teams out of the free-agent market entirely, including the Steelers. Teams may be reluctant to make long-term deals because they are unsure of the ramifications.