Labor talks break off without new agreement

Updated: March 5, 2006, 9:45 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The NFL and its players union broke off talks again Sunday, leaving dozens of veterans in danger of becoming salary cap casualties before free agency begins a minute after midnight Monday.

The breakdown was typical of the topsy-turvy negotiations -- just when things seemed darkest, they got brighter. And when it looked optimistic a deal could be struck, as it seemed early Sunday, talks broke down.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the union broke off the talks and had no further explanation. There has been no resumption in talks between the sides and none are scheduled, an NFL spokesman told ESPN.com's John Clayton.

"The talks ended today after the NFL gave us a proposal which provided a percentage of revenues for the players which would be less than they received over the last 12 years," Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said in a statement Sunday evening. "After suggesting we extend the waiver deadline from six o'clock to ten this evening, they gave us a new proposal which was worse than their prior offer. Quite naturally, we rejected that proposal and saw no need to continue meeting.

"Under our previous cap agreement, we got just less than 60 percent of all of the revenues. The NFL now wants us to cut that percentage to less than 57 percent. Given the enormous revenue growth the NFL is experiencing, I am not about to give back gains which we have made in the past. It is clear to me that we will do much better under our current CBA in 2006 and particularly in 2007, the uncapped year.

"I continue to believe that the problem lies with the high revenue clubs and the revenue sharing issue. Their refusal to share more revenues is making it worse for everybody -- players, owners, and fans."

But Harold Henderson, the NFL's executive vice president for labor relations, said the union rejected a proposal that would have added $577 million for players in 2006 compared to 2005 and $1.5 billion in the six years of the extension. "It's an unfortunate situation for the players, the fans and the league," Henderson said.

Without an agreement, the salary cap for the 2006 season will be at $94.5 million, instead of one as much as $10 million higher if a deal had been reached. If there is no agreement, 2007 will be an uncapped year. The smaller salary cap for 2006 means that some teams will have to cut players to achieve cap compliance.

Earlier Sunday, the NFL and the players' union agreed to delay the deadline for teams to get under the salary cap to 10 p.m. ET, and then later agreed to extend it until 11:30 p.m. ET. Management wanted to extend the deadline to Wednesday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported, but the players' union would only agree to a four-hour delay from the original 6 p.m. ET deadline.

One of the endangered veterans went immediately -- center Kevin Mawae was cut by the New York Jets, although he probably would have been gone anyway because he is 35 and missed the final 10 games of last season with a triceps injury.

Anther potential big name to go could be guard Will Shields of Kansas City. Two others in that category, linebacker Derrick Brooks of Tampa Bay and Jets quarterback Chad Pennington, agreed to restructured contracts that keep them with their respective teams.

Most teams had contingency plans for the smaller cap and the larger one. Several, including Washington, the Jets and Tampa Bay were far over the cap.

The owners and the players' union still have until midnight Sunday to agree on an extension to the league's collective bargaining agreement, a scenario that now seems highly unlikely with talks breaking off. Free agency will begin on Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET.

Upshaw told Mortensen that the two sides communicated via e-mail on Saturday night after face-to-face talks broke down during the day. Sunday's talks reportedly began just before noon ET.

In an e-mail to The Washington Post, Upshaw said the two sides were "now in the area where we will get a deal. I think it may be there. It comes down to a few final points."

The inability to bridge the differences seemed to rest on two key issues -- the internal revenue sharing among the league's 32 teams and the so-called "cash over cap" problem.

To comprehend the concept of cash over cap, one has to understand that the salary cap is just a bookkeeping number, one that can be massaged by amortizing signing bonuses, among other mechanisms. The cap has never been indicative of a team's payroll. The Redskin organization, believed to be the highest revenue-producing machine in the league, has had payrolls well over $100 million the last few seasons, even while the highest salary cap level ever was in 2005, at $85.5 million. The difference between a team's true payroll and its salary cap number is essentially what "cash over cap" means.

Sources said Saturday that, as part of the weekend discussions, the NFL proposed limiting the amount of cash over cap, per team, to 2 percent. While Upshaw has expressed concern in the past about cash over cap, he likely viewed the 2 percent limit as too low, and as potentially taking money away from players.

Information from ESPN.com senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli, ESPN's Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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