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NFL Notes Progress on Prime-Time TV Deals

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; 5:14 PM

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, chairman of the NFL's broadcasting committee that is negotiating the league's television contracts, says he's hopeful of completing a deal with ABC and ESPN in the next month for the sport's Sunday night and Monday night packages.

The league is attempting to negotiate rights fees with the two Walt Disney Co.-owned networks for the prime-time packages. The NFL previously agreed to six-year contract extensions, through the 2011 season, with Fox and CBS for the Sunday afternoon packages. Those deals totaled about $8 billion, including approximately $4.3 billion for Fox for the NFC games and about $3.7 billion for CBS for the AFC package. The annual rights fees that the NFL receives from Fox and CBS increased by 25 to 30 percent in the new deals.

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"I think we're moving forward on TV," Bowlen said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I'm hopeful we'll get something done in the next month or so with Disney."

Bowlen said he's optimistic that Disney will be ready to complete an agreement now that it has named Robert Iger to succeed Michael Eisner as its chief executive officer, effective Sept. 30. It appears possible that the Monday night games could move from ABC to ESPN, but Bowlen said he doesn't know yet how likely that is. ABC could end up with the Sunday night package, currently possessed by ESPN, under that scenario.

"We haven't, in my mind, had enough discussions with Disney yet to know that," Bowlen said. "Now that Disney has leadership in place with Bob Iger, we'll see what they want to do. I'm hopeful we'll resolve something with them."

The current deal expires following the 2005 season. ABC has carried Monday night games for 35 years but reportedly has lost about $150 million per year during the current contract, in which it pays a rights fee averaging about $550 million per season to the NFL.

The NFL also has agreed to a five-year, $3.5 billion contract extension with DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket package through the 2010 season. The league is shopping a package of Thursday night and Saturday night games to networks.

Progress On Labor Front

Bowlen said that progress was made in the league's negotiations with the NFL Players Association on an extension of their labor agreement during an approximately four-hour meeting Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

"I don't think we're close to [a deal] yet, but we had very meaningful discussions for four or five hours," Bowlen said. "I think we made progress, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Players Association chief Gene Upshaw, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and several team owners -- including Bowlen, the Steelers' Dan Rooney, the New England Patriots' Robert Kraft and the Carolina Panthers' Jerry Richardson -- were among the participants in the negotiating session.

Upshaw is seeking significant changes to the league's economic system as part of an extension of the labor deal, and these negotiations have not gone as smoothly as others involving Upshaw and Tagliabue. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, the current economic system would remain in effect for two more seasons before there would be a season -- in 2007 -- without a salary cap. Both sides want to extend the deal before then.

Upshaw has been seeking for the league to expand the pool of revenues from which the players are paid. The league has agreed to discuss basing the salary cap on a percentage of "total football revenues," instead of the "designated gross revenues" on which the salary cap currently is based. But officials have said that the two sides have been far apart in their notions of what percentage of total football revenues the players should receive, and Bowlen said it's not a given yet that the revenue pool will be expanded in the way that Upshaw wants.

"There's still a broad range of alternatives," Bowlen said. "We haven't advanced the ball that far yet. We haven't agreed on a structure, but we're working on it. There hasn't been a lot of acrimony [but] there's always a sense of urgency when you're talking about labor negotiations. We don't want to let this get away from us, either side. We both want to make a deal. We don't want to see us end up like some other sports."

Bruschi Decision Not Imminent

It likely will be weeks, if not months, before Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi decides whether he will play next season.

Bruschi apparently is giving serious consideration to sitting out the 2005 season after suffering what the Patriots described as a mild stroke in February. He reportedly underwent surgery for the repair of a hole in his heart that might have caused his stroke. . . .

Agent Drew Rosenhaus met briefly Wednesday in Philadelphia with Eagles President Joe Banner. Rosenhaus just was hired by Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and would like to renegotiate the seven-year, $48.97 million contract that Owens signed with the club last year. The Eagles don't seem eager to rework the deal, however. . . .

The Jacksonville Jaguars strengthened an already strong position by agreeing to a two-year, $2.5 million contract with free-agent defensive tackle Tony Williams, formerly of Cincinnati. The deal includes a $500,000 signing bonus. Williams is slated to back up Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, both Pro Bowl selections last season. . . .

St. Louis agreed to a one-year deal with defensive back Michael Hawthorne, who was released by Green Bay. . . . The Broncos re-signed defensive tackle Dorsett Davis, a restricted free agent. Other restricted free agents who re-signed with their teams included Chicago tight end John Gilmore and Indianapolis linebacker Nick Rogers. . . . The Eagles re-signed fullback Jon Ritchie, an unrestricted free agent. Other unrestricted free agents who re-signed with their clubs included Oakland safety Jarrod Cooper and Detroit linebacker Wali Rainer.

Douglas Agrees With 49ers

Defensive end Marques Douglas, an unrestricted free agent, signed a three-year contract today with the San Francisco 49ers. He'd spent the past four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and totaled 10 sacks over the last two seasons. Douglas arrived in the Bay Area for a visit with the 49ers late Tuesday, and met with Coach Mike Nolan on Wednesday after Nolan and other club officials returned from watching a private workout by Utah quarterback Alex Smith in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Nolan formerly was the Ravens' defensive coordinator.


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