The NFL has backed off its previous pledge that there will be no expansion or realignment until a new labor agreement is signed. Instead, NFL owners are moving full speed ahead in both areas, and league sources said last week that expansion franchises likely will be awarded next year and that the new teams probably will be on the field in 1993.
Expansion also will mark the beginning of what is likely to be a complete realignment of both the NFC and AFC along more geographically logical boundaries.
An NFL source said the first realignment probably will take place in 1993, and that since it will come in the final year of the four-year, $3.84-billion television contract, it will include only interconference moves. No moves between conferences will happen until at least 1994 after a new television deal is negotiated.
An NFL ownership committee made up of the heads of several other committees is studying the issues and their repercussions. League officials have refused to speculate on what changes might be brought by realignment, but a good bet is that the Dallas Cowboys and Phoenix Cardinals might be moved out of the NFC East and the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints out of the NFC West.
In a more immediate matter, NFL owners will meet Thursday in Chicago and attempt to come up with roster sizes for the 1990 season. Last year, the league went to a 45-man roster, with a two-man inactive squad and a six-man developmental squad.
But the NFL Players Association took the league to court claiming it was unfair that players on the developmental squad received a flat $1,000 a week instead of the minimum salary of $50,000. One possibility is a 47-man roster with no developmental squad, although the injured reserve list historically has been used much the same way.
"All that will mean is that the veterans will have to practice more because there will be fewer people to practice against," New York Giants General Manager George Young said. "I'm a Democrat and I never heard of a union that wanted to eliminate jobs."