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NFL Contract Talks Reach a 'Dead End'

League Releases Week 1 Matchups

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page D08

KAPALUA, Hawaii, March 21 -- NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told team owners Monday that negotiations on an extension of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association have been "exhausted" and were "at a dead end," but also expressed hope that discussions could resume at a "realistic" level to eventually make a deal.

The contract expires in 2008, and if the deal is not extended, the salary cap in effect since that landmark agreement was reached in 1992 would expire after the 2006 season. That is a scenario NFL team owners want to avoid because they know negotiating another cap with the players' union would be extremely difficult.

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Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said part of the problem in getting a labor extension had a lot to do with a division among owners on the league's longtime revenue sharing policies. Some of the high revenue teams, including the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, have been pushing to keep larger portions of the revenues generated by their franchises -- stadium naming rights, advertising, local broadcasting and luxury boxes.

Low revenue teams such as Minnesota and Arizona want most of that money to be shared, as does the union. In some cases, the gap between high and low revenue teams has been in excess of $100 million annually in gross income, and some owners do not want to see the NFL suffer the problems Major League Baseball has had with too many have-not teams who can't afford to be competitive. Baseball does not have a salary cap, and shares far fewer revenues.

"To get them [the high revenue teams] to change, you have to have a gun to their heads," Rooney said. "The clock is ticking. Maybe they'll get some brains . . . The union is asking for a lot of money. We can't get to that because of where we are [with some owners.] We are a different business. You need all the teams" to share.

Tagliabue said he did not agree with Rooney's comments, adding: "I'm not sure we have division; we have a complicated set of new economic issues. . . . Since the first collective bargaining agreement, teams had to spend dramatically more to get stadiums built -- more than $2 billion over the last 12 years. The debt service on those stadiums represents three to four percent of total revenue. We have to figure out how to address that with the players' association."

NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw was not immediately available to comment. He told the Associated Press last month that "if we don't get [an extension] done by the end of this season, there will be a sense of urgency."

Tagliabue will call a special league meeting on April 19 to further discuss the CBA, though he also said: "If we make progress we'll have a meeting, if we don't, we won't. . . . The best way to get a good labor deal is for both sides is to continue to have a rising tide that raises all boats."

In other developments, the NFL announced the matchups for the opening week of its 2005 regular season. The Oakland Raiders will play defending Super Bowl champion New England in the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 8 in Foxboro, Mass., on ABC. Dallas will travel to San Diego for the national doubleheader game on Fox on Sept. 11, with Indianapolis playing at Baltimore that Sunday night on ESPN. The first Monday night matchup Sept. 12 will have Philadelphia at Atlanta on ABC.

Talks are still going on with the Disney Company about renewing their Sunday night ESPN and Monday night ABC packages. The league has renewed its contracts with CBS and Fox for $8 billion and six years starting in 2006, and Tagliabue said there also have been discussions with several broadcasting entities for its new Thursday/Saturday package, also starting in 2006.

Tagliabue seemed intrigued by a proposal the Miami Dolphins will bring up on Tuesday that would establish one or two cities as permanent Super Bowl sites, with other cities also still eligible to play host to the league's marquee event. The game could be in a stadium that would be enhanced with other fixed structures built around it for a variety of uses during a Super Bowl.

Tagliabue suggested that the Pro Bowl, now played the week after the Super Bowl, might be played in that stadium the week before the Super Bowl.

He described the Miami proposal as "visionary . . . out-of-the-box" thinking and said he could envision a two-week "celebration of football, including youth games.

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