SBJ/September 12 - 18, 2005/Labor Agents

NFL shuffles owners in labor negotiations

Faced with little progress in talks with its union, the NFL last Tuesday shook up the team of owners charged with negotiating with the players, moving in the Denver Broncos’ Pat Bowlen and the Carolina Panthers’ Jerry Richardson as top negotiators.

The move comes as NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw has stepped up demands that a deal be agreed upon next month.

“If they are choking on what we want now, they will gag on what it will cost them the farther we go,” Upshaw warned.

The league at its annual meeting in March threw up its arms in frustration over the labor talks, instead choosing to focus more heavily on how the clubs would share their own pool of money.

But the squabble between high- and low-revenue teams shows no signs of abating, so the league again appears to be focusing on talks to renew the collective-bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2008 season.

Under the current CBA, the 2007 season would contain no salary cap, and Upshaw has cautioned that if that happens, the players will never accede to another cap.

Newly named to the labor committee, or Council Executive Committee, are Bowlen, Richardson, Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Bowlen and Richardson will be the lead negotiators.

The four replace Arizona Cardinals executive vice president Michael Bidwill, Green Bay Packers President Bob Harlan, San Francisco 49ers owner John York and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

The four remaining members are Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, St. Louis Rams President John Shaw and New York Giants co-owner Wellington Mara.

One team executive noted that the new members are weighted toward clubs with new stadiums, which could aid the cause of high-revenue teams.

But another team executive said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was simply moving in owners he believes can do serious negotiating. Bowlen also runs the broadcast committee and recently wrapped up renewal of the league’s TV deals.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that Tagliabue periodically rotates in and out members of the different committees to provide a fresh perspective.

The league was scheduled to meet with the union last Thursday.

The NFL postponed until Oct. 6 an owners meeting scheduled for this week, citing little progress in the CBA talks. One team source said the big issue in the postponement was to bring the new CEC members up to speed on the issues.

Upshaw will begin his schedule of meetings with players on each of the 32 NFL clubs at the end of September.

“I am either going to be telling players we have a framework for a deal or I am going to be telling players this thing is going to go to the end and there won’t be a salary cap the year after next,” Upshaw said.

Earlier this year, talks toward a new CBA made major progress when the NFL agreed, for the first time, to include all league monies when calculating the percentage of revenues that players will get as part of the salary cap.

The problem is that players want about 65 percent of revenues, but owners have offered 57 percent.

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen sounded hopeful, however, in noting that Bowlen was part of the owners’ committee that negotiated the NFL’s landmark 1993 CBA, which established the salary cap as well as free agency.

“With the addition of Pat Bowlen, we are bringing someone back who was instrumental in the original deal in 1993, and that would be a positive sign in making compromises,” Berthelsen said.

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