Owners to meet ahead of Thursday deadline

NEW YORK -- NFL owners will try Thursday to find labor peace before the start of free agency, hoping to avoid the mass dumping of veterans for salary-cap reasons.

The owners will meet in New York, looking to reach an agreement
with the players' union that could add $10 million to $15 million
to a 2006 salary cap that currently is $94.5 million. Without it,
some teams could be forced into wholesale cuts to get beneath the
cap by midnight. Free agency starts Friday. The NFL extended the
deadline for teams to terminate contracts and request waivers on
players six hours, from 4 p.m. Thursday to 10 p.m.

The NFL said in a statement Wednesday that the management
council executive committee unanimously rejected the union's latest
proposal "as a basis for further negotiations."

"Without an agreement with the union on an extension, the
league year will begin as scheduled at midnight Thursday under the
current terms of the CBA," the statement said.

Three days of talks between the league and the NFL Players Association to extend the agreement that runs out in 2008 ended Tuesday with the sides far apart on the percentage of league
revenues earmarked for its players. Gene Upshaw, the union's
executive director, said the league is offering 56.2 percent of
its total revenue for the players, almost four points lower than
the union's.

"Our number has to start with a six," Upshaw said.

But beyond the numbers is an issue that has divided the owners for two years: revenue sharing among the teams.

Under the current system, some teams make far more than others in ancillary income, ranging from local radio rights to stadium naming rights and advertising. The lower revenue teams say that forces them to commit as much as 70 percent of that money to the players while teams with more outside money contribute far less, giving the high-revenue teams more available cash for upfront bonuses to free agents.

The NFL said in a statement after talks broke off that revenue sharing won't be discussed at Thursday's meeting.

Still, it is bound to come up during a meeting that on the surface is considered a strategy session to determine the owners'
next move. Labor negotiations often have a way of being moved
forward by deadlines, and revenue sharing is considered a critical
part of the formula.

Under the current agreement, 2006 is scheduled to be the last year with a salary cap. An uncapped year in 2007 means new rules that will force teams and agents to change their plans this year and could keep a lot of teams out of the free-agent market

"It might mean that no rookies get signed because no one is
sure of the long-term ramifications," said Tom Condon, the agent
for a number of the game's top players.

Even more urgent are salary-cap ramifications for many teams, which anticipated a labor agreement and planned for a much bigger ceiling. Washington, for example, could be as much as $25 million over after signings over the past few years that anticipated a salary cap figure well over $100 million.

The ramifications of a lower than anticipated cap were evident
Wednesday, when some high-priced veterans were cut. Among them were
defensive end Trevor Pryce and running back Mike Anderson of
Denver, the team's leading rusher last season. Denver also cut
tight end Jeb Putzier.

Buffalo, meanwhile, released defensive tackle Sam Adams and
Carolina released three veterans: running back Stephen Davis,
defensive tackle Brentson Buckner and kicker returner Rod Smart,
"He Hate Me" of old XFL days.

Miami cut left tackle Damion McIntosh, saving $3.8 million
against the cut. The Dolphins are a prime example of a team that
needs a new labor agreement: They are estimated to be about $9
million over a $95 million cap, but would be under it if the
agreement is reached.

Others seem ready for whatever happens.

"We're in pretty good shape," New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said Wednesday. "They're going to give us a cap number and we'll be ready for it. You always prepare for a worst case, no matter what the situation. You never want to be surprised
by something negative, only something positive."

Accorsi said he's also not worried about new rules. He said
those contingencies are covered in the contracts of two young Pro
Bowl players -- tight end Jeremy Shockey and defensive end Osi Umenyiora -- that the Giants extended last fall.

But others are in a different situation, which could mean
wholesale cuts of big-name players at midnight Thursday. What
happens in the meetings may determine that.