NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Thursday that he and team owners disagree with NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw on the economic model the league must follow to continue its level of success.
A day after Upshaw described the league as being made up of eight "haves" and 24 "have-nots" in terms of team revenue and said the union wants a larger share of local revenue, Tagliabue ended a two-day owners' meeting by describing Upshaw's remarks as "an over-simplification," saying that the current economic system has produced competition and balance.
"Some of the so-called 'haves' he described, one of the things they do have is a lot of debt from building their new stadiums," Tagliabue said, adding that the league and union "have some major differences in terms of revenues and growing revenues. . . . There's a lot of expense with [local revenue] growth. A lot of the local unshared revenue is revenue that should not go into the salary cap."
Despite their differences, Tagliabue said he thought the two sides would be able to come to a consensus on extending the current collective bargaining agreement. The CBA, which went into effect in 1994, expires after the 2008 college draft. It includes a salary cap through the 2006 season, and an uncapped year in 2007.
"We know each other long enough to be able to not raise our voices," Tagliabue said. "We're not going to be shouting at each other. But there will be some very sharp differences. . . . I think we'll get there. It won't be because Gene Upshaw and I like each other. It's because we'll sit down, do some hard work and come to a consensus."
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he believes no labor extension will be approved until the NFL makes a final deal with its television partners. The eight-year, $17.2-billion deal expires after the 2005 season, but the league has been negotiating with its current carriers and other potential bidders in recent months.
"I hope we can get something done before the end of the 2004 season," Kraft said. "I don't think we can do a labor deal until we extend the TV deal."
Tagliabue said Thursday the league is still considering a Thursday night/Saturday night prime-time package that could be aired on the NFL Network after the contracts run out.
The NFL Network, now at the end of its first year on the air, is available in about 22 million cable and satellite homes. Putting live games on its network would also make it more attractive to cable systems that do not now carry the NFL Network.
Owners also were updated on the stadium site situation in Los Angeles. The NFL would like to be in Southern California by 2008, and groups representing the L.A. Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, and the cities of Carson and Anaheim are finalizing their offers. Those offers likely will be presented to the owners at their March meeting, and a final decision on a stadium site will be made in May.
Kraft said three groups have made progress, though he would not name them. Other sources said the city of Carson, with a site located on a landfill, is not likely to be a contender in May.
In other on-field developments, Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay, chairman of the league's competition committee, told owners that the number of penalties this season is commensurate with the number a year ago, though penalties on illegal contact with receivers -- a point of emphasis this year with officials -- are up by 31 over a similar period in 2003. He said those infractions have been offset by fewer defensive pass interference calls.
He said the new emphasis on contact also has resulted in passing yardage being up significantly, to 212.4 yards a team, and yards per game (by both teams) have increased to 654.4 yards. He also indicated scoring is slightly down in the 40 points-per-game range, something of an aberration considering the increased yardage figures.
"The emphasis on contact and holding up the receivers has definitely helped open up the game," McKay said. "I think the coaches got the message and the players got the message. After five yards, people are letting receivers have a shot at running down the field. That was the whole idea."
McKay also said that the committee's study indicates that the total number of injuries is about the same as last year.
He did acknowledge that players placed on injured reserve have been slightly higher this year, but that a true evaluation on any injury numbers should be made after the season.
Though the number of replay challenges is up by 35 from a year ago, the success rate of those challenges remains at about 30 percent, consistent with last year. He also said the length of games remains about the same, three hours six minutes.