Cowboys' Jones Says Owners Will Find a Way

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006; 1:54 PM

GRAPEVINE, Tex. -- Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said today he believes that NFL team owners will find a way to reach a consensus and resolve the league's labor dispute during a meeting scheduled to begin here later this afternoon.

"My gut is, we can come up with something here that's good for the league that we can go on with," Jones said.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue scheduled the meeting for the owners to take a ratification vote on a proposed settlement with the players' union. The owners gathered at a hotel at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and Jones stopped in a lobby area outside a meeting room to speak to a group of reporters. He has been on the owners' bargaining committee that was meeting early this afternoon before the full ownership meeting scheduled for later in the day.

The proposed settlement, submitted by the union, would need to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams to go into effect. There have been deep divisions between owners of high-revenue franchises, like the Cowboys, and low-revenue clubs through the twin disputes in which the owners have been negotiating a labor deal with the players while attempting to resolve their own internal conflict over proposals to increase the degree to which the teams share locally generated revenues.

Jones has been viewed as being among the owners who strongly oppose a new revenue-sharing deal, which union chief Gene Upshaw has said would have to accompany a labor settlement in order for low-revenue teams to be able to afford the salary commitment they'd be making to the players. But Jones said it was time for the owners to lock themselves in a room and settle their differences, either internally or with the players, for the good of the thriving sport.

"I expect quite a push for the owners to come up with something," he said. "We just want to play football. We have an obligation to everybody, particularly to our fans, to make something work. As I said, nobody cares if I'm happy. Nobody. We have to come up with something that's in the best economic interests of the NFL."

Jones said he expected "a pretty drawn-out meeting" that could last late into the night. The league has left open the possibility of the meeting spilling over into Wednesday and the owners' approval vote being taken then.

When representatives of the owners and players put the union's proposal into writing during a meeting Monday in New York, they agreed that there would be no further negotiations. Upshaw said the union's proposal was a take-it-or-leave-it offer for the owners. The league and union agreed Monday that the NFL's free agent market will open at 12:01 a.m. Thursday if the owners reject the proposal. The opening of free agency would be delayed, for a third time, until 12:01 a.m. Friday if the owners ratify the settlement.

Next season's salary cap likely would be increased by more than $10 million per team if a labor deal is approved, and the NFL would be ensured of a continuation of its long-standing labor peace. The current collective bargaining agreement keeps the sport's salary cap system in place through the 2006 season, then there would be a season without a salary cap in 2007 before the deal expires. The proposed extension apparently is for six years and calls for the players to receive slightly less than 60 percent of a greatly expanded pool of league revenues.

"We've got a lot on the table," Jones said. "I think what you're seeing here is a recognition. . . . We need to get in here and work real hard to get something done, and that's what we are doing. This cuts real deep. We're going to have to make this work in the league. We have to run some tighter ships in the league. We have to address our cost structures. . . . This far exceeds anything we've ever done."

Several sources around the league said Monday they expected Tagliabue to support the proposed settlement. Upshaw said he had not received a formal promise from Tagliabue about endorsing the proposal but he believed that Tagliabue was in favor of a settlement or he wouldn't be presenting the proposal. League officials said that Tagliabue merely would present the proposal without offering a recommendation to the owners, and Jones gave a similar assertion today.

"We are going to get a presentation," Jones said. "The league has made it very clear they're not endorsing anything. We're going to get a presentation about what the players are offering us."

However, a top front-office executive from another NFL team said today that he believed Tagliabue was working behind the scenes to smooth over differences among the owners and attempting to bring about a settlement.

Moves Continue

Teams continued to make moves while awaiting the outcome of the labor and revenue-sharing deliberations. The Miami Dolphins released linebacker Junior Seau and tight end Lorenzo Diamond. The Pittsburgh Steelers cut safeties Mike Logan and Russell Stuvaints.

The St. Louis Rams signed defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, who'd been released last week by the Dallas Cowboys. The San Francisco 49ers re-signed linebacker Derek Smith, fullback Chris Hetherington and quarterback Jesse Palmer.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company