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Extension in the works; replay going to vote

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- With several key issues on the NFL's
agenda in the next few years, league owners want Paul Tagliabue
around.

Tagliabue will be offered a contract extension of as long as
three years, Steelers owner Dan Rooney said Monday at the NFL
meetings. The 32 owners agreed unanimously to lock up Tagliabue,
63, beyond the May 2005 expiration of his current contract, which
pays him about $5 million a year.

He's expected to get about $8 million a year under the new deal.

"He's taken the league to a new level," Rooney said of
Tagliabue, who replaced Pete Rozelle in 1989. "The television
situation is phenomenal, the relationship with the players union is
great. We're entering an important period and we want him to
continue to lead us through it. It's obvious what we think of
him."

Among the upcoming matters the league faces are negotiations for
a new network television contract -- the current eight-year, $17.6
billion deal expires after the 2005 season -- and an extension of
the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players
Association.

"We've had back-to-back stewardships not seen anytime before in
any league," retiring Ravens owner Art Modell said of the
Rozelle-Tagliabue years.

In the next two days, the owners will vote on three proposals to
keep instant replay as an officiating aid:

  • A renewal of the current coaches' challenge rule for five
    years.

  • Permanent renewal of the current system.

  • Permanent renewal, with an additional challenge given to a
    team that makes two successful challenges.

    "I think it's time for voting on it permanently," competition
    co-chairman Rich McKay said. "This rule has been tried and tested
    in our minds. I think we should be a league of permanent rules."

    Several other rules changes will be voted on either Tuesday or
    Wednesday.

    Changing overtime to allow both teams a possession is unlikely
    to be approved. The competition committee doesn't favor it.

    The committee also recommended instituting 15-yard penalties for
    choreographed celebrations and suggested some minor changes to the
    fair catch rule that will eliminate any returns by the receiving
    team once the signal is made.

    An expansion of the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams won't be on the
    agenda after Kansas City withdrew the proposal. Although many
    coaches said they favor the idea, the Chiefs felt there wasn't
    enough support among the owners, and the competition committee was
    strongly opposed.

    Concern about the disparity in cash flow between the 32 teams
    has been a main topic of the meetings. Rooney, Buffalo's Ralph
    Wilson and Indianapolis' Jimmy Irsay expressed their concerns
    Monday.

    "With our stadium and ticket pricing and market, we are 32nd
    out of 32," said Irsay, who went into his own pocket to pay a
    record $34.5 million signing bonus to quarterback Peyton Manning,
    last season's co-MVP. "There has to be some way to create a shift
    there, and it's the issue in the NFL right now -- revenue sharing."

    Redskins owner Daniel Snyder paid out nearly $50 million in signing bonuses in the first two days of free agency this year. Even with a salary cap, some owners believe it's difficult for teams with less cash to match that, even though Snyder's spending has failed to improve his team in the five years he's owned it.

    Tagliabue predicted renewal of the NFL Trust, through which
    teams share revenues from the sale of licensed merchandise. That
    amounts to about $4 million per team a year. Washington's Daniel
    Snyder and Dallas' Jerry Jones want to market their own products
    without cutting in others, although neither has indicated
    opposition to the NFL Trust. They do seek modifications.

    That concerns small-market owners.

    "I can't see why we're talking about selling a few more
    bobblehead dolls in Buffalo," Wilson said. "And I wonder how many
    Cowboy hats Jerry is going to sell there. There's a far more
    fundamental issue: the money disparity that will end up making it a
    league of haves and have-nots."

    The Colts and Patriots will open the 2004 season on Thursday night, Sept. 9 in Foxboro, Mass. The game is a rematch of the AFC championship won 24-14 by New England in January.

    The other prime-time games for the first weekend will be Kansas City at Denver on Sunday night, Sept. 12, and Green Bay at Carolina on Monday night, Sept. 13.

    Dallas will play at Minnesota in a nationally televised game on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12. No other matchups were announced Monday.