http://www.newsday.com/sports/football/jets/ny-spjets0312,0,3912793.story?coll=ny-football-headlines Woody, Kraft step up for owners Tagliabue called it the 'Jets-Patriots plan' and NFL owners gave it their stamp of approval minutes before deadline BY BOB GLAUBER STAFF WRITER March 11, 2006, 5:12 PM EST It was a few minutes into the one of the most important owners meetings in NFL history, and time was ticking down on the league's critical labor agreement extension talks. If a deal wasn't struck with the players union by the end of the day last Wednesday, the league would embark on a period of uncertainty that could ultimately lead to a work stoppage. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stood before the owners in a hotel ballroom near the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport, and asked for any ideas. Jets owner Woody Johnson stood up, imploring his fellow owners to take decisive action to avoid a crisis. Johnson suggested they had to find common ground to reach an accord not only with the players, but with themselves on a sensible revenue-sharing plan. Tagliabue then asked for any further suggestions, and Patriots vice chairman and president Jonathan Kraft, son of team owner Robert Kraft, stood up and outlined a plan that would ultimately serve as the foundation for the deal that was agreed upon hours later Ã¢â‚¬â€œ just before an 8 p.m. deadline set by NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw. Tagliabue called it the "Jets-Patriots plan," and league owners eventually put their stamp of approval on it. Only minutes before the deadline, owners voted 30-2 and agreed to a six-year extension of the CBA, heading off what would have been the league's biggest labor crisis since a players strike in 1987. "This was the most important set of meetings I've been involved in since I've been in the NFL," Johnson, who purchased the Jets in 2000, told Newsday in a rare interview. "The labor agreement is one of the biggest reasons the NFL is at the head of the pack, and we had to strike a balance. It was personal to me, and we had to come up with a solution that was simple and understandable to everyone." That Johnson and Kraft were the ones to set the deal in motion was somewhat ironic, especially given the history of the two ownership groups. After all, it was Johnson who started his tenure with the Jets by suing the Patriots over their hiring of Bill Belichick as head coach. The Jets ultimately prevailed in their grievance against the Patriots, getting first-round and third-round picks as compensation for Belichick's departure. But Johnson acknowledged for the first time that, shortly after Tagliabue rendered the decision, he made peace with the Kraft family. They have since become close friends. "We won the battle with Belichick, but we lost the war, because he's undoubtedly the best coach in the league, and the Patriots are three Super Bowls ahead of us," Johnson said. "We started off in court, but I was determined to make things right. I called [Robert Kraft] and said, 'Listen, Bob, we're going to be in the same room, so let's get along. We'll be partners, we'll be friends. We'll be competitive on the field, but we'll be friends off the field.'" That friendship has grown so close that Kraft invited Johnson on a trip to Israel this month; Johnson couldn't make it, but wound up working alongside Jonathan at the Dallas meetings to forge the labor extension. The fact that Johnson and the Krafts had both signed on to the underpinnings of the labor agreement was significant. The Patriots are one of the league's richest franchises, in part because they draw huge revenues from their privately funded stadium, and some owners were leery of how much they were willing to share their money with lower-earning teams. The Jets are considered one of those lower-revenue teams, since they don't have a new stadium and thus have limited financial resources. "As we talked about the concepts around the plan over the last couple of weeks, I think we each understood the symbolism of the higher revenue club and the lower revenue club being behind the same plan," Jonathan Kraft said. "That makes a pretty powerful statement." Kraft had worked on the details for weeks, devising a plan where the top 15 revenue-producing clubs would share a pool of around $90 million in locally-generated money that was not part of television or ticket sales, traditionally the two most important revenue streams for NFL teams. Under Kraft's plan, the top five revenue-generating teams would each pay a certain amount into a league pool; the next five teams would pay a slightly lesser amount; and the next five teams a lesser amount than that. But as part of that deal, the lower-revenue teams wouldn't simply get the revenue; they had to make a good-faith effort to generate local revenues themselves. If not, then they wouldn't be entitled to the money. Details are still being worked out about what those lower-revenue teams have to do, but an example would be a team that's in a new stadium couldn't share local revenues for at least 10 years. That means the Bengals and Cardinals, each of whom won public funding for new stadiums, won't simply be handed a check from fellow owners. Both teams came under considerable criticism from some fellow owners for their lack of aggressiveness in generating local revenues. In fact, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder at one point during Wednesday's meeting chided Bengals owner Mike Brown and Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill for their poor local marketing efforts. "We've put a lot of thought into revenue sharing over the last year," Kraft said. "My dad and I care deeply about the league and we wanted to try to be a part of the solution. It was great that we got to do it in partnership with Woody." Johnson believes the plan will work. "I think it's an equitable shift of revenues," he said. "I truly believe that teams at the bottom end of the revenue spectrum will be able to have enough money to maintain competitive balance and truly put a competitive product on the field." Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc. .