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The Door is Still Open

Mar 2, 2006, 7:18 AM EST

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The Door is Still Open

Welcome to the eleventh hour.

The sound you distinctly didn’t hear on Wednesday was that of the door on a new CBA agreement being slammed shut. That’s because the door remains open, if only a crack.

The owners are in New York on meeting Thursday morning. Allegedly, there will be no talk of revenue sharing, although it’s difficult to imagine that the number one issue facing the league, possibly the key to a last-second deal to get a CBA extension done, would not be brought up by somebody. It would be an elephant in the room, no doubt about it.

Revenue sharing is the key to getting a deal done. Last week at the combines, some executives like Rich McKay, the Falcons’ GM, said that they could get around to doing a revenue sharing agreement after a labor deal was done. Apparently, Gene Upshaw didn’t like that concept. When he announced on Tuesday that the talks had broken off, he said:
We’re too far apart on our economics and too far apart on revenue sharing – the ball is in their court. (emphasis added)
There is no parsing of that statement necessary. What he was saying, loud and clear, is, no, there will not be a CBA deal until there is one on revenue sharing. Why not?

It’s simple. A higher salary cap is no good to the union if there are a lot of teams who don’t have the revenue to pay it. If you have a handful of teams willing to pay run a payroll at or near the cap and the majority of the teams near the lower limit you haven’t really put more money into the pockets of the players.

Upshaw will not be around for the meeting; he presumably will be in Washington. But you have to think that if his cell rings and the caller ID is from the 212 area code, he’s likely to take the call. If he likes what he hears he could be on a Gulfstream and be in Manhattan within a couple of hours. Smiles and handshakes could ensue and the dotting and crossing could commence.

There are those who point to the wave of players who were cut on Wednesday and some contract restructures that took place as evidence that there would be no agreement and that teams were breaking the glass and pulling the emergency lever to get under the cap. Those folks have short memories; there are massive cuts every year. These are moves that likely would have been made CBA or no CBA. And we know that, for example, the contract restructure that Washington’s Mark Brunell agreed to was not signed. The team will not pull the trigger on it unless the cap space is needed.

So, here’s the potential scenario for today: Upshaw, after receiving incredible pressure from players and agents who find the free agent environment in the next two years to be completely unacceptable, even with an uncapped ’07, lowers his demands to 58% if total football revenues, a number that the owners have been willing to accept all along. Paul Tagliabue, nearing retirement and not wanting to leave a legacy of labor unrest after so many years of peace, twists enough arms at Thursday’s owners meeting to get the high revenue owners to create a local revenue pool that won’t give the small market guys everything they want, but enough for them to sign off on the deal. The cap goes up to $108 million, free agency is delayed a week to give all the lawyers a chance to finalize the documents and for teams to rethink their plans.

While it all sounds logical, it is not likely to happen. Logic does not seem to the prevailing modus operandi here. It’s more likely we will see the end of the NFL world as we know it.

But deadlines like the one looming at midnight tonight have a way of scaring people smart, so the door is still open that tiny crack.

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