By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
The head of the NFL Players Association offered a stern warning yesterday to team owners convening today in Washington for a two-day league meeting.
"To sit around and think that labor peace is going to just fall off a tree, they're reading the wrong tea leaves," said Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director. "It's time for them to wake up to the fact that we have a problem, and we need to get it fixed."
The league and the union have had discussions over the last year on extending the collective bargaining agreement past its expiration following the 2007 season. But Upshaw said that in recent meetings with owners and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue: "It's beginning to sound like that movie 'Groundhog Day.' They give us the same thing over and over and over.
"Their last proposal to us was totally unacceptable. You see what happened to hockey [a lockout that forced cancellation of the 2004-05 season]. Now basketball is moving in the same direction. I don't see us as being too far off the pace from those two. For some reason, the owners have not moved the ball at all."
At their winter meetings in Hawaii in March, the owners continued to discuss a CBA extension tied to changes in the current revenue-sharing agreement among the 32 teams. The major issue has been the reluctance of higher-revenue teams such as the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys to share more of their locally generated revenues with teams in smaller markets.
Upshaw said that, in the latest talks with the league, the union has been offered 57 percent of the league's designated gross revenues "when they admit to us under the old agreement we've been getting 59 to 60 percent. So why would we accept something less than what we're already getting? We're not going to do that."
Under the current labor agreement, a salary cap will be in effect for the last time for the 2006 season, and if there is no extension, the 2007 season would be uncapped, meaning teams could spend as much as they want to sign free agent players. Upshaw said if it came to an uncapped year, he would decertify the union, a move that essentially would mean all players would become free agents.
"Once you get to an uncapped year, you can't go back," Upshaw said. "I think that's something they don't want to see happen. I think we need to do this before it gets too late. I'd much rather talk to the players this fall about what we can agree on rather than telling them you better prepare for a train wreck, because that's what it will be."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to respond to Upshaw's comments but noted that CBA negotiations are a key part of the agenda for this week's meetings.
Over the next two days, owners also are expected to approve the sale of the Minnesota Vikings to Zygmunt Wilf, a New Jersey developer and real-estate magnate who has agreed to purchase the team for $625 million from Red McCombs. Wilf became the principal buyer when Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler was unable to meet the league's criteria for full ownership. Fowler, who had hoped to become the NFL's first black owner, will instead be a limited partner in Wilf's ownership group.
Owners also will pick a site for the 2009 Super Bowl; Atlanta, Houston, Miami and Tampa are the candidates.