NFL owners approve six-year CBA extension

Updated: March 9, 2006, 12:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- NFL owners chose the certainty of a salary cap over the prospect of life without one, and they're paying for it.

The league agreed Wednesday to the union's proposal, including a revenue-sharing component that will cost owners nearly a billion dollars over the next six years.

The deal will carry the NFL's 32 franchises through the 2011 season. Two low-revenue teams, Buffalo and Cincinnati, cast the only votes against.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said $850 million to $900 million in players' salary will be added over the life of the deal because of the revenue-sharing component, which the union fought for throughout the on-again, off-again talks. The money will come from the teams that make the most in revenue beyond the television money that is already shared. Only the top 15 revenue teams in each year will be required to pay into that part of the salary pool.

"On behalf of the players, the NFLPA staff and the negotiating team, we are pleased that this process has finally concluded with an agreement," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said in a statement. "This agreement is not about one side winning or losing. Ultimately, it is about what is best for the players, the owners and the fans of the National Football League.

"Moving forward, this new agreement gives us the opportunity to continue our unprecedented success and growth."

After announcing the agreement, the NFL asked the players' union to push back the start of free agency from 12:01 a.m. ET Friday to 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday.

Upshaw told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that since the NFL has approved the labor proposal, he will grant the NFL's request to push back free agency. Upshaw told Mortensen that while he has not yet actually granted the delay, he planned to do so.

The formal announcement of the extension will likely come on Thursday.

"It was a good compromise," said Jim Irsay, owner of low-revenue Indianapolis. "We're happy with it -- 30-2 is a good vote."

The agreement concludes weeks of contentious negotiations between the league and the NFL Players' Association. The new extension will add $7.5 million to the 2006 salary cap, pushing it to $102 million, Mortensen reports. Without a CBA extension, the 2006 cap would have been $94.5 million. The 2007 cap will be $109 million.

"We want teams to get additional money to re-sign players, rather than cutting them," Tagliabue said.

Teams had until 11 p.m. ET Wednesday to be cap compliant, a deadline that was pushed back early Wednesday from the original 9 p.m. ET cutoff.

"The union is delighted," NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. "The new CBA is a big leap forward for the players and means a fairer system for all. It also means seven more years of labor peace. Fans can now forget about the lawyers and owners and enjoy football."

The deal was put together by nine teams who began on different sides of the revenue-sharing debate, including such high-revenue teams as New England and Dallas.

"We were willing to make some sacrifices to get this thing done," said Dallas owner Jerry Jones, the most vocal opponent of revenue sharing. "The proposal from the union was a mean mother."

Under the new deal, the bottom 17 teams in revenue will not contribute to the pool, which will be funded with the top five teams contributing the most; the second five less; and the third five less than them.

Still, two of the lowest-revenue teams voted "no."

"I didn't understand it," said Buffalo's Ralph Wilson. "It is a very complicated issue and I didn't believe we should be rushing to vote in 45 minutes. I'm not a dropout ... or maybe I am. I didn't understand it."

Had the owners been unable to reach an agreement, it would have put a number of veterans on the street and would have limited the amount of money available for teams to spend in free agency. By reaching a compromise, the league managed to avoid an uncapped year in 2007, which would have allowed some teams to spend almost at will and keep others from spending at all.

Some veterans have already been let go, such as Brentson Buckner, a 13-year veteran who was cut by the Carolina Panthers last week to clear about $1.5 million of cap space.

"It was eventually going to happen, they had to get it done," Buckner said. "But it's good because now it gives guys who put in the time to become a big-time free agent, the guys like Edgerrin James, the chance to go out and get what they've earned."

The crux of the debate over the last few days has centered on revenue sharing and the disparity between high- and low-income teams. Low-income teams such as Buffalo, Cincinnati and Indianapolis say that high-revenue teams -- Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia, for instance -- should contribute proportionately to the player pool because they can earn far more in non-football income such as advertising and local radio rights.

Those high-revenue teams might contribute only 10 percent of their outside money compared with 50 percent or more for low-revenue teams.

"Some teams are contributing a little more than others," Redskins owner Dan Synder said. "This is really a win-win."

Upshaw has insisted throughout more than a year of negotiations that the division between owners must be resolved before agreement could be reached on a contract extension.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.