http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/18/AR2006021801300.html Deadline Looms For NFL, Players Attorney: Deal 'Seems Doubtful' By Mark Maske Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, February 19, 2006; E01 The NFL is headed toward a labor showdown by the end of this week barring an unlikely last-minute breakthrough in negotiations, Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw said, signaling that the labor peace that for 13 years has been a key reason for the league's success is on the verge of dissipating. A written message sent Friday from a union attorney to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said it "seems doubtful" that team owners and players will be able to settle on an extension of their collective bargaining agreement beyond next season. Upshaw, who has worked closely with Tagliabue for years to avoid the sort of labor strife that has affected other professional sports leagues, said in a telephone interview that the union now is ready for a fight. "The closer we get to the deadline the more pessimistic I am that anything will happen," Upshaw said. The owners "don't seem to believe we're willing to take it all the way. . . . But we are." Upshaw said he regards the end of this week as the deadline for a labor deal and he has little hope that scheduled bargaining sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday will produce movement toward a settlement. He plans to address players' agents in two groups this week in Indianapolis, the site of the NFL scouting combine. The current labor deal leaves the NFL's 13-year-old salary cap system in place through the 2006 season. A failure to agree to an extension of the deal would leave the sport without a salary cap in 2007 -- and perhaps beyond. Upshaw has said the players will not allow a salary cap to return if they play a season without one. The salary cap sets an annual ceiling on the amount each team can spend on players. Next season's cap is projected to be between $92 million and $95 million per team. Without one, wealthier teams such as the Washington Redskins could spend whatever they wished on players, but people on the management side maintain that certain changes that would come with a season without a salary cap -- such as players needing six seasons of experience, instead of four, to be eligible for unrestricted free agency -- might keep it from being the bonanza for players' salaries that Upshaw and the players envision. The labor impasse already is wreaking havoc on teams' planning for the March 3 opening of the free agent market, since it is effectively leaving teams with less wiggle room under the 2006 salary cap. With league revenues burgeoning after the completion of a new set of national television contracts worth almost $4 billion per season, Upshaw has been seeking to expand the pool of revenues from which the players are paid. But the two sides remain unable to agree on what percentage of the expanded revenue pool the players should receive. In a related issue that is complicating talks with the union, the 32 owners have been unable to agree to a system to increase the amount of locally generated revenues that they would share. Several teams, including the Redskins, in recent years have expanded the revenues they generate on their own, outside the shared revenue stream each team receives collectively, primarily through network television contracts and leaguewide marketing deals. The owners' deliberations have become so combative, Upshaw said, that he has been told nine of the wealthiest teams have banded together and are threatening to sue if the clubs have a revised revenue-sharing system forced upon them. The Redskins, who generate the highest revenues in the league, would be among that group of nine. Owners of lower-revenue teams say that if no plan for bolstered revenue-sharing is put in place, football will become, like baseball, a sport of have and have-not clubs in which only a handful of wealthier franchises will have realistic championship aspirations. The labor stalemate also impacts planned stadium construction. Upshaw said the players will stop participating in a stadium-loan program that they fund in cooperation with the league if there are no labor and revenue-sharing deals. The teams planning new stadiums include the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets and Giants. Upshaw previously has said he would, if there's no deal, recommend to the players at a March 9 executive board meeting that they begin the process of decertifying the union, a tactic that would seek to eliminate the possibility of a lockout by the owners. It also could lead to the players going to antitrust court to challenge any new system imposed by the owners. Upshaw and Tagliabue skipped the Pro Bowl in Hawaii last week to return to the East Coast after the Super Bowl and resume the labor deliberations, but Upshaw said there has been no progress. A letter written by union attorney James Quinn, delivered by e-mail Friday to Tagliabue and Harold Henderson, the league's chief labor executive, said that "we are rapidly approaching the next league year and our ability to get a deal done in this short time frame seems doubtful. Gene, Jeff [Kessler, another union attorney] and I are particularly concerned that so little progress has been made on the core economic issues that we have been discussing for nearly two years." In the e-mail, Quinn identified the "three bedrock issues" in the negotiations as the salary cap, revenue sharing and the stadium loan program. He wrote that "in order for us to continue any form of salary cap, the players must obtain a significant increase (both in dollars and percentage) in our overall share of total league revenues." On the revenue-sharing issue, Quinn said that the union has "repeatedly made clear that we will not agree to any form of salary cap that does not deal with the 'free-rider effect' which unfairly benefits a handful of high-revenue clubs." Upshaw has said that some owners of the league's wealthiest franchises aren't devoting a fair portion of their revenues to players' salaries. He has exempted the Redskins' Daniel Snyder, whose team generates the league's highest revenues but also usually has one of the NFL's heftiest player payrolls. The teams share their national revenues equally, but the success of the Redskins and some other clubs in increasing streams of unshared local revenues has led to a fractious internal debate in which the less-prosperous franchises are seeking to have more of those revenues shared. "There's a lot of infighting on their side," Upshaw said. "They don't believe they're going to have to do this, but that's the only way the low-revenue clubs can afford their commitment to us. My understanding is that there's a group of nine [wealthy teams] that's saying, 'If you force us into more revenue sharing, we'll sue you.' " Of the stadium loan program, Quinn wrote that "the players are prepared to continue the . . . program in a form that makes sense to both sides" but it must come within the context of a bolstered revenue-sharing deal. Upshaw said the union will not contribute to any future stadium projects if there aren't labor and revenue-sharing deals in place. An NFL spokesman said yesterday the league had no response. All of the uncertainty is creating extra work and additional worries for those people in charge of running teams. "Right now we're operating with a Plan A and a Plan B," Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. "We have both of them ready to go. That's all you can do. We've never faced a year like this since I've been on this side of the fence. We've never been where it went down to the 11th hour like this not knowing what the system is going to be."