Jones cautiously optimistic of deal's being reached

3/9/2006 - NFL

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walked up to a Dallas reporter Tuesday morning to make a point.

As those who cover the NFL have reported, there is a division between the high-revenue and low-revenue owners that has held up an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement extension. Jones, one of the league's wealthier owners in terms of generating revenue, made his point with a smile on his face.

"You aren't getting it right," Jones said, jokingly. "It's not the high-revenue owners taking away from the low-revenue owners. It's the low taking away from the high."

Owners started to filter in from morning flights and proceeded to a meeting room off Terminal D in the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport for what should be a two-day dialogue that will determine the short- and long-term economic future of their sport. The owners were presented with what the NFLPA is calling its final proposal for a six-year CBA extension, a deal in which the union receives 59.5 percent of the total revenues.

The mood was pleasant, but there was a great deal of uncertainty as owners awaited the start of the meeting. No one could predict whether the league would say no to the union, which would result in an uncapped 2007 and set the stage for a possible lockout in 2008. Some owners were pessimistic. However, Jones was cautiously optimistic that something will be worked out.

"My gut is we can come up with something here that's good for the league and we can go on with it," Jones said. "It's going to be up in the air. I expect a pretty drawn out meeting. The hotel has saunas. Maybe at 1:30 [a.m.] we can break."

Most owners believe the meeting could go as long as the 9 p.m. ET waiver deadline on Wednesday prior to the midnight start of free agency. The union is giving the owners every chance to accept the deal, and there is even some thought that if owners are still talking Wednesday night, free agency could be pushed back another 24 hours.

But after that, there is no other extension. This owners' meeting is it. The NFLPA begins its board of representatives meeting and convention in Hawaii this week. Upshaw delayed his flight to Hawaii for a day to be available, but he's going to be in flight at some point and out of touch.

For this CBA extension to work, owners have to work out a revenue-sharing formula, a problem that has been blocking a deal for two years. Teams at the high end of revenue have a $100 million-plus revenue advantage over the others. But the high-revenue teams don't want to lose the benefits of marketing their teams well and give it to owners who aren't maximizing their revenues.

"I expect quite a push to get owners to come up with something," Jones said. "I am cautiously optimistic just because we just want to play football. We have an obligation to everybody to see if we can make this thing [work]."

The players' proposal came in much higher than the owners anticipated. At 59.5 percent, teams have to start preparing for a salary cap that could be as high as $106 million to $108 million, although it could be agreed upon to start the cap a little lower.

"Everybody knows this is a rich deal," Jones said. "It's going to take a lot to make this work. We have to run some tighter ships in maintaining our costs. We have to go over our cost structures. We are going to have to reexamine every aspect of your organization. Like I said, this is the hardest thing we've ever done with the players, relative to the revenue stream."

Jones doesn't think the meeting will be bloody. He refuses to call it a war. The discussions will be long and meaningful. It's the future of the NFL as the league operates that is at stake.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.