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Upshaw says NFL labor talks break down again

3/1/2006 - NFL

NFL labor talks broke off Tuesday three days
before the start of free agency, leaving teams and players in a
quandary about negotiating new contracts.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association,
spent the last three days meeting in New York and Washington with
commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"We're deadlocked. There's nowhere to go," Upshaw said.
"There's no reason to continue meeting."

The NFL acknowledged the talks had broken off and said no
further discussions were scheduled. The league said it would not
extend Friday's deadline for the start of free agency.

Although the contract does not expire until after the 2007
season, this is a critical period in the negotiations to extend the
12-year-old contract. Talks have been going on for more than a
year.

Without an extension, the 2007 season would become a so-called uncapped year with no spending limit and no minimum, and players could potentially face a lockout in 2008.

Team officials and player agents have said that doing business without an extension -- particularly with the free agent signing period set to begin Friday and the draft on April 29-30 -- will prove virtually impossible. Because of the extreme circumstances that would exist with an uncapped year on the horizon, it would be difficult to meet the financial expectations of free agents and high-round draft choices.

"We're too far apart on our economics and too far apart on revenue sharing -- the ball is in their court," Upshaw said. "We'll go to the uncapped year, there won't be an extension."

Free agency is scheduled to start Friday. If the deal is not
extended, this would be the last year with a salary cap, so agents
and team officials want to know how to structure contracts.

For example, if there is no extension, the salary cap is
expected to be about $95 million this season and annual raises
after 2006 in a long-term deal would be limited to 30 percent. If
the deal is extended the cap could be $10 million or more higher.

The sides have agreed on a number of issues. The biggest one is
changing 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 a money a a team generates.

They differ, however, on the percentage of revenues to be
allocated to the players -- the union is asking for 60 percent and
the league's current offer is 56.2 percent.

But there are also disputes among groups of owners on that
issue, too. Tagliabue has called a league meeting in New York for
Thursday to explain to NFL clubs why the sides have been unable to come to an agreement.

Teams with lower revenues -- mostly small-market clubs -- say that
if the contributions to the players' fund are equally apportioned
among 32 franchises, they will have to pay a substantially larger
proportion of their nontelevision and ticket money because they
have less. Owners of high-revenue teams, like Dallas' Jerry Jones,
claim spreading the load equally would force some teams to work
harder to generate new sources of money.

Another high-revenue owner, New England's Robert Kraft, says the
formula does not take stadium debt into account, as he has on
Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli was used in this report.