KAPALUA, Hawaii, March 23 -- Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, offered a far more optimistic view of negotiations on an extension of its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL on Wednesday, two days after Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated the league was at a "dead end" in talks with the players' union.
Upshaw said in a telephone interview Wednesday he has spoken with Tagliabue after his remarks here Monday and hopes to meet with the commissioner in the next two weeks. He said the union last week offered the league its own analysis of how the NFL's current system of revenue sharing is working and acknowledged that team owners need to agree on their own system of revenue distribution before any deal can be struck.
"I think we have an opportunity to get a deal done," Upshaw said. "Right now what they can't live with are the numbers we've proposed. We're at 65 percent [of what the players believe they should receive in revenues] and they're at 57 percent. The problem they're having is what they consider the revenues that should be shared between themselves."
There has been much debate here this week on that subject, with owners from the most prosperous teams, such as Washington, Dallas and New England, arguing they need to keep more of the revenues they generate, rather than sharing them with the rest of the 32 teams. Smaller market teams have pushed for sharing of revenues from sources such as stadium naming rights, advertising signage and local broadcast rights.
"I saw where Paul said it was at a dead end," Upshaw said. "I don't agree. These things always get worked out. Obviously the longer we wait, the harder things get and the price of poker goes up. We'd like for something to happen soon. All we have to do is agree on a term sheet, we don't have to do all the detail work . . . We have time for that."
The current agreement expires following the 2008 season, and if an extension is not completed, the 2007 season would not be subject to a salary cap. The owners want to avoid that scenario, and Tagliabue has said he plans to hold a special league meeting to discuss the CBA extension on April 19 in Atlanta.
Tagliabue backed off a bit Wednesday from his "dead end" comment, saying there was "a lot of good discussion, a lot of good analysis and two or three concepts we've got . . . to keep the progress going. There are different ways of finding some additional revenue sharing and arriving at target levels to assure that all clubs can operate successfully under the strict demands of the salary cap. . . . The priority is to resume the discussion and get a common understanding of the economics and move forward."
In other developments on the final day of the league meetings, despite a unanimous 8-0 recommendation from its own Competition Committee, owners voted down a proposal that would have corrected one of the major flaws in its instant replay system -- a failure to review calls involving fumbles after a ball carrier has been ruled down by contact.
A change in the replay rules that would have allowed a team to keep possession if the fumble occurred after the down by contact call was made could garner only 20 of the 24 votes necessary for approval. Twelve teams opposed any change in the rule that states if a runner is down by contact, anything that occurs after the whistle blows, like a fumble, is not subject to review.
"Coach [George] Halas always used to say you play the game to the whistle," said Bruce Allen, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who voted against the rule change. "The play would have these guys playing after the whistle [signaling down by contact], and that's not a good thing."
Rich McKay, co-chairman of the league's Competition Committee, said he was not surprised the proposal failed because a core group of about six teams has always voted against the entire concept of instant replay. He said he anticipates the issue will be brought up for another vote next March.
The owners also decided to table a rule change involving "horse collar" tackles, when a defender grabs a ball carrier from behind by the shoulder pads and yanks him down, a play that resulted in about a half dozen injuries last season. Dallas safety Roy Williams was involved in at least three of those plays, but other defenders have also been employing the technique in recent years.
McKay said the committee will present the proposal again at its May meeting in Washington. He said he was confident the rule would be passed when it comes up for a vote in a year when the committee looked at a number of safety issues. A rule that eliminates peel-back blocks below the waist passed unanimously Wednesday, as did another rule that will protect kickers and punters from being leveled on returns if they are not involved in the play.
In another development, team owners as expected voted 31-1 to award New York a Super Bowl in 2010, as long as the Jets can have a new retractable roof stadium in place on Manhattan's west side. A fierce political battle is being waged over the proposed stadium site because it likely would need an infusion of about $600 million in public funding for a stadium expected to cost in the $2 billion range. Buffalo was the only dissenting vote.