Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said yesterday he and his staff were encouraged by the tenor of their talks with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Thursday and indicated that for the first time he believes the two sides can make a deal for a fifth extension of the current collective bargaining agreement.
While the league did not make a new offer during the three-hour session in New York, Upshaw said the presence of two new members on the NFL's negotiating committee, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, was a clear signal that the NFL is now "ready to get serious."
Upshaw said the two sides have already scheduled two future negotiating sessions, one on Sept. 21 and another Sept. 23, both likely in New York. If a third session is necessary, they'll meet again Sept. 28, probably in Washington.
The two sides had been stalemated over the amount of total football revenue the union wanted, 63 percent, and what league owners were willing to offer, 57 percent.
"The only thing [Bowlen] said about the numbers was that the first number was going to start with a six but the last number wasn't going to end in nine," Upshaw said.
The current contract expires after the 2007 season, and the owners know that 2007 would be uncapped on player salaries, meaning they could spend as much or as little as they like on their teams. Upshaw has said once the players get to an uncapped year, he believes there is no way they would ever agree to have another salary cap.
On Wednesday, Upshaw spent the day in San Antonio speaking with members of the New Orleans Saints, who told him they wanted to play as many games as they can in San Antonio, where the team has set up headquarters for the season in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"I told them under no circumstance would all seven be played there," Upshaw said. "I told them I didn't think they could turn their backs on Louisiana or New Orleans and I think they know that."
A league spokesman said last night that no decision has been reached on where the Saints will play seven of their last eight home games, despite a report yesterday in a San Antonio newspaper that a deal was in the works to play at least four games in that city's Alamodome.
* COLTS: Defensive end Dwight Freeney practiced yesterday and is slated to start tomorrow against the Baltimore Ravens after missing Thursday's workout with what was described as a sore right foot.
The status of tight end Dallas Clark, recovering from a concussion, is to be game-time decision.
* DOLPHINS: Tight end Randy McMichael pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months probation on a charge related to a July argument during which police say he gave his wife a bloody nose.
* JAGUARS: Wide receiver Cortez Hankton had surgery on his right ankle will miss several weeks.
* SEAHAWKS: Tight end Itula Mili is doubtful for tomorrow's game after checking into a hospital with a blockage in his intestine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.